June 21 was officially the first day of summer and retailers have their fingers crossed for good weather and a successful season. However, as the industry becomes increasingly impacted by legislation changes, consolidation and pricing pressures, c-stores need to find ways to stand out from the pack.

One way to differentiate yourself is by providing fantastic customer service and a great in-store experience, writes HIM’s Matt Smith. Traditionally, expectation for the in-store experience revolved around staff – namely friendliness and helpfulness, driven by the local nature of convenience stores. However, the modern shopper’s expectation has been buoyed by their experience in other channels and by the proliferation of the supermarkets.

Therefore, retailers have to look towards less tangible factors, such as staff friendliness, cleanliness of store, speed of service and flow of store to ensure they make the customer’s trip as easy and enjoyable as possible.

Providing a great in-store experience will demand investment, but getting the basics right can mean huge benefits for both retailers and suppliers.

HIM spoke to 20,000+ shoppers as part of our annual Convenience Tracking Programme (CTP) and for the first time ease of shop has emerged as the priority importance for UK convenience shoppers. This was closely followed by staff friendliness and cleanliness of store, highlighting the importance of providing an in-store experience that fulfils shopper expectations.

CTP data also revealed that the more satisfied shoppers are with an in-store experience, the higher their visit frequencies. Shoppers who rate their in-store experience as nine or 10 (out of 10) visit 44% more frequently than the shopper who rates their experience as seven or eight. Positive effects are also seen on basket size and spend.

In short, retailers can no longer view customer service and in-store experience related factors as a ‘nice to do’, but as an important business opportunity.  If retailers can put systems in place to deliver against growing expectations then they will find themselves in a better position to offset external political, economic and social impacts.