With a growing number of Gen Z drivers behind the wheel, convenience stores are right to be thinking about how to connect with this young generation—and their dollars. By 2020, they will represent more than 40% of buying power, and will step in as the top consumer group within the decade.
The very nature of convenience makes c-stores attractive to younger consumers. Speed, ease and simplicity help establish brand loyalty. But the future for such stores lies in what we call the Gas-Plus approach.
“As many European countries are looking to ban gasoline vehicles by 2030, c-stores are smart to be thinking of what else they can offer consumers in addition to gas,” says Brad Hanna, generational expert at Barkley. “For Wawa, it’s hoagies. For QuikTrip, it’s doughnuts. For Casey’s, it’s pizza.”
From wild flavor offerings to extravagant beverage centers, Hanna says there are other easy wins when it comes to appealing to Gen Z consumers.
- MAKE IT A FIELD TRIP: Gen Z consumers are collectors of unique experiences, and often visit c-stores in groups on their way to and from school and events. Offer share-worthy experiences in the stores and innovate the retail experience by incorporating technology that makes their shopping trip easier (absolutely a top value for both Gen Z and Millennial consumers), faster, more personal.
- SCOPE OUT THE COMPETITION: C-stores aren’t just competing against other c-stores, Hanna says, but specialty coffee shops and fast food chains. Promote more affordable offerings they can’t get other places, or find tasty, trendsetting treats that compete with other fast food menu items. Offer sneak-peeks and tastings of new menu items. Consider seasonal promotions (summer frozen drink specialties and specialty coffee) only available certain times of year.
- GET CREATIVELY DELICIOUS: Food trends often starts with young consumers, Hanna says. C-stores are a great place to offer experiential flavors in snack pack size, which translates to less consumer commitment. That’s why brands like Lays launch single-serve, multi-flavored, grab-n-go snacks—think flavors like Biscuits and Gravy, Reuben, Truffle Fries—in the c-store market before taking them to mainstream grocers. Offering items that are hard to get other places is also smart strategy: Takis, for example, are a huge hit right now with young consumers, hard to find anywhere else but convenience stores.
- OFFER LIQUID VARIETY: Beverages are the top go-to for young consumers on the run. White space for c-stores in this category lie in offering a variety of quality choices consumers can customize to their own needs: think frozen drinks, post-workout energy drinks, add-ins like flavored syrups and whey proteins, energy boosters and hot drinks, too.
- THINK INTERNALLY: In a post-advertising age where mammoth brands like Unilever are exploring the future of reaching consumers without a lick of advertising, every action a company takes, both internally and externally, is an opportunity to communicate with consumers. Think QuikTrip, with how it treats its employees beyond competitive compensation. Such intentional gestures turn employees into true believers of the company it serves; treat your employees well, they take care of your customers. This action in itself is not advertising but communicates volumes about the kind of company QuikTrip is, and consumers of all ages notice.
Want to read more on how c-stores can attract younger consumers? Check out how Convenience Store News recently cited our new book, Marketing to Gen Z: The Rules for a Reaching This Vast and Very Different Generation of Influencers, in an industry report on how to connect with Gen Z.