IRVING, Texas—For many successful organizations, the digital-first economy of 2020 wasn’t a complete surprise, and one of those organizations is 7-Eleven, reports Pymnts.com.
According to Raghu Mahadevan, senior vice president and head of digital, 7-Eleven, the convenience store chain had been moving toward digitizing the business for several years. When the pandemic hit, additions to the firm’s digital lineup were in the works, including the rollout of its loyalty program, mobile wallet, delivery program and self-checkout offerings.
COVID-19 powerfully accelerated the digital shift and blurred old boundaries that once separated convenience outlets from grocery stores and QSRs. With 9,300 locations within minutes of 50% of the U.S. population and an increasingly robust stable of digital services, 7-Eleven is ready to take on a year that will be a wilder ride than 2020, Mahadevan indicated.
“The thing that 7-Eleven has done right is to continue to redefine convenience,” he said. “We’re trying to look out for what’s next, where the consumer is heading and how can we make it a really delightful shopping experience for them. Ultimately, it goes back to the fact that customers want convenience. And if you make it convenient for the customer and offer them value and safety front and center, you will be the company that best serves that customer.”
It is not about building a single digital journey for every customer, Mahadevan said, but putting the digital tools in place so that customers can manage their own commerce to meet their individual needs.
The customer 7-Eleven saw this year was different from the pre-pandemic shopper. The timing of shopping has shifted with far fewer people commuting to work. But those customers still come in, and they’re spreading their business out over the course of the day.
They’re also using 7-Eleven somewhat differently, he noted. Consumers are buying more grocery goods and pre-prepared meals because they don’t want to expose themselves to a large group of people in a big box store or grocery store when they only need a few items. Plus, they’re more enthused about using 7NOW, the company’s delivery service.
Customers also have changed their relationship to payments, he said, particularly contactless payments.
“We’re hearing from our franchisees that this is really resonating with the customer because they come in, they put the product on the counter, they pick up their phone and use the wallet,” Mahadevan said. “It's a seamless experience … and a big thing that is actually helping us here is the ability for customers to load cash into the mobile wallet for use.”
That cash inclusion is critical because millions of Americans are unbanked, underbanked or pay with cash exclusively. Designing digital for 7-Eleven meant designing it with an eye toward a solution that works across all segments.
“Since the launch of our wallet, we have seen a lot of customers loading cash on,” Mahadevan said. “Now they have access to our entire ecosystem, including our loyalty program.”
There were once defined lines between categories like c-stores, groceries and QSR restaurants, but those lines are so blurred as to be almost non-existent. Players like DoorDash are stepping into the convenience space with their own digital stores. The playing field will be full and incredibly busy, he said, and as far as shifts go, the industry is just getting started.
“The year 2021 looks even more exciting and fast-paced than 2020 has been,” Mahadevan said. “Our goal now is to ensure that we thread all the different pieces together within our digital ecosystem.”
NACS has compiled resources to help the convenience retail community navigate the COVID-19 crisis. For news updates and guidance, visit our coronavirus resources page.