Saturday, December 23, 2023

AI is Quickly Coming to Convenience Stores


It is not often that the team at Tacoma, WA based Foodservice Solutions® turns and looks at their Grocerant Guru® Steven Johnson with bewilderment. However, every time he brings up the topic of AI all heads turn to him and say more?  He then nods and says yes there is more and will be a lot more to come!

If success does leave clues and it does, it’s AI that will be uncovering those clues for you very soon.

Recently there was  an exclusive CStore Decisions webinar hosted by editor-in-chief Erin Del Conte, our team thinks it was so full of good insights we wanted to share it with you.  Here it is:

“AI is among topics in the c-store world (and the world in general) that are virtually impossible to avoid in common conversation. Now, convenience retailers are learning how to harness the power of AI to their benefit.

In an exclusive CStore Decisions webinar hosted by editor-in-chief Erin Del Conte, industry professionals Derek Gaskins, chief marketing officer, Yesway; Richard Crone, CEO, Crone Consulting LLC; and Scott Smith, director of IT, Parker’s, discussed several topics revolving around the idea of AI.

Gaskins kicked off the webinar by noting that Yesway — which operates over 420 stores across the U.S. — is currently using AI mainly by its marketing and merchandising groups for content creation, personalization within its loyalty program and customer experience management.

He noted that Yesway uses AI for “measuring the sentiment, harnessing and listening to feedback that we get in an omnichannel fashion and then responding to it and closing out those tickets.”

He added that the technology is also used within merchandising, whether it’s dynamic pricing, management, writing cogent summaries and making sure jobs have detailed descriptions for the roles and responsibilities of category managers.

For Parker’s —which operates 78 locations mainly throughout Georgia and South Carolina — the chain is exploring AI and computer vision to assist its team in automating daily tasks.

“We think of AI as more of an intern,” said Smith. “So, the more data you feed it, the
better questions you ask it, the more it learns and evolves. So, we think of it as a partner in helping us do our daily tasks and we’re really just watching it to see where it goes.”

Richard Crone offered also his perspective on the future of AI in c-stores, which provides a different angle on the technology. To Crone, the true value of AI lies in the data that can be collected through it.

“AI is about data. Your data, and the most monetizable of that data is your customer data. The
biggest challenge for c-stores, grocers, petroleum marketers, any retailer, is harvesting that data, interpreting that data at scale and protecting it and monetizing it,” he said. “That’s what artificial intelligence does. It allows you to harvest the data about your customers and use it to personalize and improve the experience.”

From a retailer’s perspective, specifically Smith with Parker’s, the most relevant application of AI for the chain right now is with customer service.

“We find a lot of our customers are asking questions about a loyalty program, about offers, about things that we’re doing in our stores, and most of the time they either have to send us an email (or) give us a phone call,” he mentioned. “So, instead of having someone on our team answer that call and deal with the customer directly, kind of augmenting that team member with AI in a chat bot to really answer those questions that can easily be answered and really just reduce the time that we’re spending doing manual things like that.”

Gaskins noted that Yesway shares a similar belief and is cautiously implementing AI to save employees’ time and make certain processes easier. He also mentioned, however, that his team needs to be skeptical and keep a close eye on the technology, so as not to damage the integrity or image of the brand with content that is produced by someone (or something) that is outside of it.

Crone emphasized that AI could make life for a c-store retailer much easier, and it can also lead to a more seamless customer experience. One example of this is Just Walk Out technology, which has been implemented by companies like Amazon to allow customers to skip the checkout lane and buy products without the entire checkout process.

“The existential threat to c-stores as they exist today is the rapid deployment of that technology by your competitors, because if your goal, given the convenience store mantra, which is fast, easy, instantaneous convenient shopping for those items at that touch point, nothing beats Just Walk Out,” said Crone.

Whether AI is being used to simplify operations, sift through data or increase customer service availability, it is becoming clearer every day that AI is going to continue to evolve and be used in different ways across all industries.

Other topics discussed in the webinar were check-in strategies, how AI can decipher customer intent, AI’s role in loyalty programs, concerns and challenges for AI integration, theft control and much more.”

Success does leave clues. One clue that time and time again continues to resurface is “the consumer is dynamic not static”.  Regular readers of this blog know that is the common refrain of Steven Johnson, Grocerant Guru® at Tacoma, WA based Foodservice Solutions®.  Our Grocerant Guru® can help your company edify your brand with relevance.  Call 253-759-7869 for more information. 

No comments:

Post a Comment