Creating exceptional retail environments is about personalizing the mold without breaking it
When you really break it down, all retail stores in a particular industry tend to look the same. They have the same layout, similar lighting, and display their goods the same way – just walk into a grocery store in Toronto one day and Los Angeles the next and you’ll see the similarities. The ubiquitous nature of retail environments is so common, that if we were to blindfold you, drop you at the front doors of a random store and then challenge you to find a given item, no matter if you were in a big box or fashion store, pharmacy, coffee shop, you name it, when we pull off the blindfold you could easily make your way through the store to find exactly what you needed.
The reason behind this convergence is pretty simple — hard data shows which layouts work, and as retailers, we’ve trained customers how to move through our stores. But as a retailer in an overly-competitive market working to establish our brand and grow our footprint, we can’t throw away what works – so there will be some similarities between our stores and others – but we also need to take massive steps to stand out from competitors.
We need to be seen as different. But we need to keep what works. But we can’t be seen as a copycat. So the question is how do you really stand out in all the right ways without breaking the proven retail mold?
Your retail space is your blank canvas – kind of.
Before jumping into the answer of how to stand out – let’s take a look back at one of the retailers who has been doing this right for decades. While you may not spend much time thinking about 7-Eleven (especially as a Canadian where their footprint is much smaller than in the US), 7-Eleven established the corporately-owned, single brand convenience-store model post-WW2. Because prior to the 7-Eleven name and explosive growth in footprint, the idea of a corner store was an independent mom-and-pop shop where every store was different, there was no common experience, store layout, or brand.
But as 7-Eleven grew through the 60s, 70s, and 80s, it not only created the established way to build a convenience-brand, but it found every other company copying their work. At a certain point, the “convenience store” model was established, the market was saturated, and there wasn’t much that 7-Eleven (or any of the copy cats for that matter) could do to re-invent the shopping experience.
So what does 7-Eleven do? They look within, they look at what they have to work with, and they make the most of the parts of the business that help them stand out: their brand, the unique elements of the neighbourhoods they’re a part of, and technology.
For retailers like you, location is everything.
Retail 101 says that location is everything. But are you actually leveraging your location?
- 7-Eleven is well-known for stocking its stores with products that have specific appeal to the customers who live within the neighbourhoods for each location.
- Franchisees own 90 percent of 7-Eleven’s stores and these local owners typically have deep insight into the needs of their customers.
- 7-Eleven’s Retailer Initiative program allows individual store owners to customize up to 15% of their stock.
- For example, stores in urban locations can offer taquitos, while residential stores can carry diapers and toothpaste.
THE TAKEAWAY: Location is more than visibility, foot traffic, and parking access – location is about the people who live within a 2km radius of your location. Know your customers and be open to tailoring your stock based on the unique makeup of each neighbourhood you’re in.
Shoppers care about price.
While the price may be more or less important in your specific business – as retailers we have to be competitive.
- Convenience stores aren’t renowned for competing on price, but 7-Eleven is changing that.
- For example, they started offering gourmet coffee at competitive prices due to the increasing number of coffee drinkers.
- The Seven Reserve freshly brewed premium coffees cost the same as other beverages.
- 7-Eleven has also developed it’s Simply Me Beauty makeup line, which includes 40 cosmetic products for less than $5.
THE TAKEAWAY: Once you’ve established a price-point with shoppers (either discount, average, or high-end), look for ways to sell your customer-base new product lines that may be on the fringe of your typical product-line – carrying that value to new items.
Building the retail brand.
Customers have to know about you, see you, and understand you before they’ll ever step into your store.
- Like all modern retailers, 7-Eleven’s marketing strategy focuses on driving customers to its stores so it only advertises through channels that have proven to drive foot traffic.
- But it still heavily focuses on branding and signage outside their stores. Customers are exposed to signage at gas pumps and the storefront.
- Store interiors contain digital menu boards that deliver product-specific information to customers, which also reduces their perceived wait time.
THE TAKEAWAY: There is no way around it, you have to invest in marketing, but focus those dollars on digital channels that can prove an ROI and value to the brand, and then carry your brand throughout the entire physical retail environment including outside your location.
Build your brand through partnerships.
Building a retail brand can be a lonely business, after all, our success is 100% on our shoulders. But looking to non-competing 3rd party companies and setting up partnerships can be a strategic way to grow both brands.
- 7-Eleven routinely partners with other retail giants like Amazon to reach new customers rather than viewing those companies as a threat.
- For example, 7-Eleven launched its Amazon Cash service in 2017, which allows customers without bank accounts or credit cards to make purchases through their Amazon account.
- 7-Eleven stores also sell Amazon gift cards, which customers can load with up to $500. Furthermore, 7-Eleven currently sells 18 Amazon products.
THE TAKEAWAY: Look at companies in your area that you share customers with, then approach them to set up a partnership pilot program. You’ll add value to their customer base and you’ll be introduced to new potential customers.
Invest in technology and innovation, now.
So much of the strategies we’re speaking about in this post is about tailoring your offering for your customers – meeting them where they are with what they want – and the easiest way to have access to that data is through technology-based systems and processes.
- 7-Eleven has a long history of innovation in the retail industry.
- It was the first retailer to offer 24-hour service and the first to offer to-go coffee cups. 7-Eleven is also famous for original offerings such as Slurpees and Big Gulps.
- Modern technological innovations include its 7Rewards mobile app, which was launched in 2014 and has over 700,000 members as of 2017.
- 7Rewards offers a range of loyalty incentives such as a free beverage after buying six.
- Customers can also use this app to locate the nearest store and learn about the products it carries.
- And 7-Eleven collects and can leverage all of this user data to drive insights that help them make more strategic business decisions.
THE TAKEAWAY: Sound business decisions are made when you have trusted data – tech systems and processes that give you the data you need to make swift decisions.
Putting it all together.
To an outsider, 7-Eleven looks like a convenience store much like any other convenience store. But when you dig a bit deeper, their proactive and innovative approach to business shows why they’re on top and why everyone else is simply copying them.
The answer for you and your business is to not simply copy what others are doing or worse, copy what you’ve done in your past locations. But rather to personalize your retail locations to own your unique brand and to personalize each location to people and neighbourhoods you’re established in.
- 7-Eleven’s strategy for increasing revenue involves focusing on the specific needs of the customers at each location and finding innovative ways of connecting with customers.
- Implementing an integrated marketing campaign that improves customers’ brand recognition is also essential for retail outlets to succeed in the current business environment.
- Proprietary products are another way to differentiate from competitors.
Each of these strategies in themselves are not ground-breaking but very few retailers leverage them. So if you find yourself thinking, “These are great, but where do I start?”
You can start by contacting us and we’d be happy to help you get started.
Want to dig deeper into this topic? We were featured in the C-Store Canada’s Summer 2019 Issue speaking about this very topic!