E-Commerce: Lifeline or Flatline?

Bricks and clicks can coexist, so how can c-stores play both sides?

THE PLAYER: RETAILERS

THE GAME: TWO CAN PLAY AT THIS GAME

So far, e-commerce’s influence on c-stores “has been a nonissue,” says Randy Adams, center-store category manager for Huck’s, Carmi, Ill.

On his competitive radar are smaller, niche competitors that impose more local-market pressure. Adams cited Graze’s Snack Box program, which boxes pure fruit, wholesome treats and dips from a variety of 100 snacks and millions of box combinations.

Huck’s also doesn’t see much value with click-and-collect, in which customers pick up orders outside stores or perhaps enter the store to collect items from lockers.

“We talked about (click-and-collect) at one time, but the idea was dismissed. Logistically, we couldn’t understand why customers would ‘click’ and then want to venture out to a store to collect when they can have orders delivered,” says Adams, whose chain has approximately 100 stores in four states.

Other retailers are playing the game—in some cases, engaging with Amazon itself. In late 2015, Beaverton, Ore.-based Plaid Pantry installed Amazon-owned locker units in 70 of its 110 stores in two states, to great success, says Jonathan Polonsky, president and COO.

“The Amazon shopper is different than ours,” which means new shoppers are walking through the doors, says Polonsky. Plaid Pantry leases space to Amazon on a monthly basis, and customers come daily to pick up or send items. “We see per store 150 people come to the lockers every month, and our store managers have said that 80% of these people are not current Plaid customers.”

Quantifying impulse sales growth through these shoppers is “anecdotal,” he says, but Plaid Pantry managers say they would rather install these lockers (6 feet wide by 24 inches deep by 7 feet tall) over installing two new displays, Polonsky says.

Will Plaid Pantry go toward their own click-and-collect program? Likely not. “I’m not going to get into the distribution business, which is what that type of initiative is all about,” Polonsky says.

With 270 stores in 10 western states, Maverik Stores, Salt Lake City, has the scale to dabble in ambitious e-commerce. But it doesn’t see the need.

Instead, the retailer is focusing on creating customer-driven apps as the nucleus of its digital strategy. It has eschewed ambitious programs such as online ordering or click-and-collect, says Joey Hobson, customer fanatics director-category management for Maverik.

“Our website allows customers to find a store and buy products by using their loyalty Trail Points (proprietary program),” he says.

When asked if the chain is concerned about mounting e-commerce sales activity in 2017, Hobson says “there’s not a problem I foresee.”

CPG partners appreciate the upside of click-and-collect, and some will be on board with support if retailers opt to invest, which could entail everything from in-store lockers to kiosks as pick-up points and parking spots reserved for click-and-collect customers.

“Wrigley is developing digital sales as a whole and in concert across platforms, so that pure-play (electronic retailers only), click-and-collect and delivery models work well for the retailer and the shopper,” says Van Hyning of Wrigley.

“Multiple platforms can work in sync with one another rather than compete,” he says, “and the nation’s largest retailers are all moving to multichannel offerings for shoppers.”

THE PLAYER: CONSUMERS

THE GAME: SEEKING THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS

A silver lining for retailers: The way consumers shop is not an either/or proposition, but both.

“Most seek a seamless relationship that they are able to dictate, says Pearl of Profitero. “Unless there’s an epidemic of reclusiveness going to occur where people stay homebound, people will ultimately travel to the store to maximize their buying experience with impulse deals, stumbling upon various cross-promotions not available online.”