Healthy Food in C-Stores: The Transformative New Trend

By Vladik Rikhter

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From 1952 to 1972, Sheetz Inc. did not sell gasoline- the pumps were only added in 1973. There’s a similar story behind Oklahoma-based QuikTrip, which first began as a mini-mart in 1957 (And the founder was actually inspired by 7-Eleven stores during a visit to Dallas). It wasn’t until 1971 that QuikTrip installed its first gas pumps.

So there you have it. It took a decade, or in some cases two, for prominent convenience store retailers to offer gasoline. If there’s ever a “Jeopardy!” Convenience Store edition, you’re now well prepared.  Interestingly enough, both of these retailers are today considered innovative leaders in convenience store foodservice. QuikTrip is known for its QT Kitchens full-service counters, while Sheetz is known for its M•T•O (made-to-order) menu and Shweetz Bakery offerings. And as reported by Convenience Store News, both of these retailers are now looking to open more stores without gasoline. Food-only stores are not only a return to their roots, but also a realization that high-quality, prepared food (high-margin sale for retailer) is driving traffic, even without gasoline (low-margin for retailer).

"To be successful without gasoline, a store has to offer high-quality, well-differentiated prepared food," Donald Strenk, a consultant for the industry, told CSNews. "7-Eleven does well [without selling gas], but they may not be averaging $300,000 a month. Sheetz and QuikTrip have locations that do significantly high sales in the c-store."

Setting up a smaller store without gas pumps allows retailers to experiment both with a smaller footprint and different merchandise. For instance, QuikTrip’s 3,500-sq.-ft. downtown Atlanta store is even more focused on fresh foods than other locations.  

The fact that more convenience store retailers are committing to healthy choices was one of the headlines of the 2016 NACS Show. Aloha Petroleum, Ricker Oil Co. and Core-Mark International made commitments to the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) at this year’s show.


A commitment with PHA means more than “Oh, these apples in the cold case are nice to have in the front of the store.” We’re talking real commitment! For instance, Ricker’s committed to offering healthier food options at an affordable cost; marketing and promoting healthier food choices; and offering employee benefits such as a 50% discount on all fresh fruit and vegetables purchases. Aloha also committed to PHA’s beverage marketing initiatives to promote fruit and vegetable consumption and water as healthier choices. As a distributor, Core-Mark will do its part to modify merchandising sets to incorporate healthier options.

According to the PHA, half of the U.S. population visits a convenience store every single day, and these consumers are looking for healthier options. Each of the new PHA partners is “stepping up” to ensure both consumers and retailers have access to healthier, more accessible options. It’s what 21st century retailers need to do—step up to meet the changing preferences of consumers who demand quality and demand it now!

More Options, Better Execution

In our experience working with convenience store retailers, we know that consumer preferences change and that retailers must respond to them or risk the consequences of losing business. The most successful retailers adapt to change with ease. Some even thrive because they’re able to successfully differentiate themselves in the market.

Remember: The quality of fresh foods is ultimately a reflection of your brand. Because these foods are fresh, they often come with more food safety concerns, so employees must be mindful of storage temperatures and other food safety factors.

Ultimately, if retailers want to provide customers with better, healthier food choices, they have to optimize the store-level execution of safety checks and audits. 

If you’re looking for a solution to help maintain safe, high-quality food operations, read this white paper on creating a food safety audit, visit Zenput’s website, or schedule a demo today.  

 

Topics: C-store, food safety

Rethinking Product Placement for CPG Vendors

By David Mostovoy

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There’s a local, mom-and-pop convenience in my town that gives me an unsettling feeling every time I visit—in fact, I’ve written about it once before for this blog. I live in a small town off the beaten trail, so my options are limited. The truth is that I never know how much I’m going to pay on any given visit to this store because none of the prices are clearly marked. There is also no “flow” to product placement in this store.

Chips, snacks and candy are scattered around the store, with a non-edible, housewares aisle interrupting the product flow. The front of the store has an alcove that would be perfect for grab-and-go beverages. Instead, it’s dedicated to ice cream (off-peak in winter) and shelved beverages, separate from the cold beverages and dairy in the adjacent aisle. The back freezers seem to be underutilized with frozen food packages. And most of the customers seem to order from the fresh food counter anyway. That is one unique feature of this store—a deli/bakery setup that has become somewhat of a fixture in this small town. Indeed, with no marked prices and seemingly no rhyme or reason for product placement, this mom-and-pop store seems to do alright anyway.

But it’s not a good environment to discover new products, which is a lost opportunity for both the operator and CPG vendors. I don’t see many of the “new” snacks and beverages that I see in other stores. If the local town population isn’t demanding better product placement, who is?

This is an industry where retailers and vendors have pay-for-space and pay-for-entry agreements.

So it makes me wonder: Are vendors of new products fighting for shelf space? Do they have the ability to follow up with retailers on product pairings and placement?

Barking Up the Right Strategy

At the start of 2016, the National Retail Federation’s STORES magazine published “20 Ideas Worth Stealing in 2016.” One idea came from the brand barkTHINS, a chocolate snack food company that seemingly came out of nowhere in 2013. For those unfamiliar with barkTHINS, it’s thin, dark chocolate bark made with premium “better-for-you” ingredients, including almonds, pumpkin seeds, blueberries and quinoa. This product came to market so quickly and aggressively (and probably was such a thorn in the side of the big confectioners) that Hershey acquired them in 2016. This wasn’t by luck—barkTHINS fought for it and earned it. Their strategy basically came down to three points:

  1. Area brand managers were stocked with samples of the product.

  2. Brand managers were given freedom to negotiate with retailers when necessary.

  3. barkTHINS equipped brand managers with a dashboard to monitor account visits, product demonstrations and incremental retail sales.

Zenput Helps C-Stores Fight the Good Fight

Whether you’re an established CPG company or a newcomer fighting your way into stores, Zenput is a mobile solution that’s ideal for enterprises that have field reps. It provides a cloud-based mobile platform for account managers to check in and report promotional execution (or lack thereof) in real time. Auditing tools help to ensure compliance with product facings, pricing and promotions. Take a photo to verify shelf placement and easily share it with your team. Zenput also provides historic analysis of data that not only helps CPG companies learn from trends, but also helps them communicate with retail partners.

<p>Both expanding and already-established brands use Zenput during their store visits. Learn more about Zenput’s CPG functionality by clicking here or downloading one of these case studies for more information:

- Learn how Zenput helped Jack Link’s verify compliance for its planogram and rebate program, all while eliminating manual processes. Download Jack Link’s case study.

- Learn how Zenput helped neuro drinks gain better store-level insights for improved quality control and communication with retail partners. Download neuro drinks case study.

 

The Future of Convenience Store Foodservice

By Joe Skupinsky

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Did you go to the NACS Show in Atlanta this year? We did, and had a great time exhibiting our product for the second consecutive year! A huge thanks to everyone who stopped by our booth.

The NACS show always presents great opportunities to make new acquaintances, and it’s also a great time to catch up with our current customers. But one of the most important things we take away from NACS is education. We always want to learn about the topics and trends that matter most to our customers.

One of the hot topics—and it has been a hot topic for the past few years—is the future of foodservice in the convenience store industry. Convenience Store News attended a foodservice trends session led by Clint McKinney,  group director of Category Advisory- Convenience Retail for Coca-Cola North America. McKinney shared six keys to satisfying new customers:

  1. Value Plus - meal bundling or offering a new topping or flavor
  2. Evolution of Healthy - simple ingredients, fresh food, transparency, and “clean eating”
  3. Flexibility & Discovery - expanding meal occasions to coincide with the growth of snacking
  4. Hyper-Convenience - on-demand delivery, takeout, and drive-thrus
  5. Digitization - using social media to create share-worthy content
  6. Brand Authority - having a clear brand identity and telling a clear story  

In another session, NACS Chairman Jack Kofdarali advised retailers that they must put an emphasis on food as challenges arise in other product categories. He explained how not that long ago, customers were choosing between something delicious vs. something fast. That’s no longer the case, as many retailers are providing delicious food, quickly.

Improving Retail Execution: A Practical, On-Location Approach

Successful convenience store foodservice operators would agree that execution is fundamental to building a brand. That’s where Zenput helps convenience store retailers and other foodservice operators. Zenput allows retailers to identify what they do best and where they need to improve—all to strengthen their brand.

Let’s revisit some of the key points and see how, exactly, Zenput can help C-store operators with each.

Value Plus - Zenput allows retailers to build custom audit forms, for everything from store cleanliness to price and promotional accuracy. Inaccuracies and issues can be identified and addressed in real time.

Evolution of Healthy - Customers want healthy and fresh foods, but supplying the demand has its own challenges. The store’s cold case needs to be regularly restocked and refreshed. With Zenput, managers can make this a daily task and track compliance across stores. Zenput is even compatible with a food thermometer as an added food safety audit functionality. 

Hyper-Convenience - If you’re a convenience store operator with drive-thrus - great - you’re ahead of the industry curve! Using Zenput to audit your drive-thru, along with your kitchen and staging area, helps identify potential weaknesses like dirty or broken appliances that may be slowing you down or costing you customers.

Zenput is also a great tool for maintaining high execution in the forecourt, which strongly drives convenience store sales. This topic was addressed in another NACS Show educational session. John Eichberger, executive director of the Fuels Institute, discussed the importance of first impressions at the forecourt and advised retailers to make it clean and friendly, while satisfying customer cravings.

Convenience store retailers can also audit their forecourts to make sure they’re clean, functioning, and up-to-date with all the latest promotional signage. Whether they’re located outside or inside the store, clean restrooms certainly send the right message to customers who are considering a foodservice purchase.

Eichberger added that there are three principles to keep in mind: brand visibility, brand perception and brand experience. Like the foodservice takeaways, it all comes back to brand.

Practical, Everyday Branding

If there’s one takeaway about branding that I want to share, it’s this: it doesn’t sit on a shelf.  

There’s the philosophy of branding, and then there’s branding in reality. At Zenput, we are practitioners of reality, and our flexible platform reflects that. We want retailers and foodservice operators to use our mobile solution to measure and report actual conditions in their stores. Get notified in real-time when something is askew, assign a task to fix it, and then have the ability to follow up to ensure its completion. Experiment with new audits to improve retail execution and know you can easily change them, as you should in an ever-changing retail environment.

To learn more about our mobile solution, check out our blog, or click here to: find out more about how we help convenience store operators improve their operations.

If you'd like to schedule a demo, go to zenput.com and click on ‘Schedule demo’ in the top right corner.

 

Topics: C-store

The Evolution of Drive-Thru Dining

By Brian Harris

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Time for a trivia question: Drive-thru dining has evolved parallel to which two technologies?

This is a trick questions where you might first think that the answer is the evolution of the car. But if you think about it, a Model-T could roll through a drive-thru at the same rate as a 2017 Ford Focus. There’s still a human handing a bag of food to a driver through a window—something that hasn’t changed throughout the decades and probably won’t change anytime soon.

The real answer is cooking/kitchen technologies and digital signage. Preparing food quickly and efficiently, and making sure the order is right are the two factors that, together, continue to be the fulcrum of change (or stagnancy) in the drive-thru industry. The companies who really want to win this game invest in their kitchens and digital signage to improve transaction times and order accuracy. The biggest winners are the companies that have spent their resources integrating these technologies to streamline the customer service experience. These companies understand why customer satisfaction and loyalty is pivotal to the future of their brand.

OK, so if an operator is not innovating but still has 60% to 70% of its business rolling through the drive-thru, they don’t have to be too concerned, right? … Wrong!

Burgers-and-fries operators should be very concerned about the entrance of popular fast-casual players into traditional QSR territory. A good example is the Panera Bread drive-thru I recently saw on the edge of a college campus. The researchers behind the 2016 QSR Drive-Thru Study were surprised to see that total transaction times increased slightly over the past year. They were just as surprised by data that showed made-to-order chains like Panera were very close to the transaction times expected of more traditional QSRs.

If you’re the burgers-and-fries operator, here’s your “uh-oh” conclusion from this study: “If these [fast-casual brands] start to use the technology that speeds up total transaction times, they will be within a few seconds of most of the traditional operators.”

Check your rearview mirror because the competition is approaching!  

Areas of Improvement

Let’s return to those slightly elevated transaction times. Researchers also noticed a dip in service times when the numbers of cars in the drive-thru line starts to grow. The data suggests operations start to fall apart as volume starts to peak. Operators have the data and technology to anticipate the uptick in traffic, so there’s seemingly no reason why the line should start getting long. So why does it?

What the data doesn’t always account for is the human factor. Is the staff prepped and ready to go? Are they carrying out best practices in the kitchen throughout their shift? Is your digital signage and intercom in the drive-thru functioning properly? If it’s not, has anyone noticed? These are just some of the questions a sales sheet can’t answer. But they are questions your managers can answer by regularly auditing locations.

One such solution comes from Zenput, a mobile solution that can help drive-thru operators discover and resolve issues that can hurt their business. Auditing isn’t a “gotcha” game between restaurant employees and management. Rather, it’s a way to gain actionable insights to address real concerns at the store level, improving customer service, boosting team morale, and improving sales.

Learn more about auditing a drive-thru operation with Zenput by downloading our free drive-thru audit guide.

 

Topics: Restaurants, drive-thru

ATM Skimming: An Old Battle in Need of a New Solution

By David Mostovoy

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For as long as people have had bank cards, thieves have targeted the information they hold. Even though old magnetic strips are gradually being phased out for the moresecure EMV chip card technology, attacks on ATM machines and gas pumps are not subsiding. In fact, the attacks are becoming more frequent and sophisticated.

The U.S. Secret Service Criminal Investigation Division recently issued a warning about “skimmers” at gas pumps. Skimmers are criminals who install devices at gas pumps to gain access to a customer’s bank and credit information. They typically break into a gas pump and install a hidden device that steals or skims credit card information off of the magnetic strip. They can even use Bluetooth to immediately send out stolen information.

Unfortunately, just looking at a payment terminal is usually not enough to tell whether it has a skimming device in or on it. Authorities and companies are now training gas station operators to detect skimming devices. In these challenging times, this simple fact can’t be overstated: It’s crucial that convenience store and gas station operators stay ahead of the curve and audit their own payment terminals for skimming devices.

We get it. As an operator, you have enough regulatory issues to worry about, both inside and outside your store. But operators need to start thinking about this issue beyond any immediate inconvenience like staff training. Think instead of the damage to your brand if a skimming device is found at one of your stores. Regaining customers who lose trust in your ability to keep their financial information safe will be a tough, if not impossible, feat.

Preventing skimming attacks is your responsibility to your customers

In fact, the state of Arizona is taking a different approach to combat a spike in fuel skimming attacks over the past year. In what seems like an effort to get business owners to “get with the program” of preventative measures, the Arizona Department of Agriculture’s Weights and Measures Services Division now files a report that details whether fuel station owners who have had instances of skimming had observed industry best-practices leading up to the skimming events. The reports have revealed failures to install security cameras, tamper-proof security tape, and non-standard pump locks. In some of these incidents, thieves with master keys were able to unlock the pumps to freely install skimming devices.

There is simply no excuse for not changing the factory-default locks on pumps. Also, it’s something an audit of the pump and payment terminal would readily not

‘More Paperwork’ is No Longer a Valid Excuse

If you’re a gas station operator who is not routinely checking your payment terminals for skimming devices, you can no longer postpone such audits. In fact, you can build a custom audit form and distribute it easily, right to the mobile devices of your store managers. A platform like Zenput gives you the ability to track compliance among managers and follow up on a store-by-store basis. Better yet, Zenput’s real-time notifications will alert senior managers when a security threat is detected during an audit.

To learn more about how Zenput is used to check the security of ATMs, download the case on Welch ATM by clicking on the "Learn How" button to the right.

Topics: fraud, ATM skimming

Food Delivery: The New Frontier

By Vladik Rikhter

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It’s a pizza company! … It’s a tech company! … It’s Domino’s!

I doubt Domino’s will pick up a motto that infringes on DC Comics, but that’s essentially what they’ve become—a superhero among companies that handles delivery themselves. Think about all of Domino’s innovations in food delivery over the past decade, as highlighted in this recent Eater articlethat declares Domino’s “the Best Delivery Startup in America.” When it comes to investing in technology, Domino’s has always been a company that got it right.

One of the great paradoxes of Millennials is that they are social media whizzes but antisocial because they are always on their phones. Domino’s foresaw the importance of on-demand and online ordering well before their competitors did.

Domino’s continues to set the bar high for companies who want to maintain control over their food quality by delivering their food themselves. Keep in mind that Domino’s is no spring chicken—it was founded in 1960! While newer pizza companies may be touting the craft pizza experience, Domino’s is still the go-to pizza delivery service for the pajama crowd. With Domino’s introduction of new chatbots, visitors don’t even have to talk to a human or go to the Dominos ordering website to order a pizza—just message the chatbot to order your pizza. Some of these innovations haven’t been perfect upon rollout, but considering Domino’s strong market position, they don’t need to be. Domino’s may be learning what works as they go along, but at the end of the day, they own their own process.

Here’s the reality: the third-party food delivery space is becoming crowded. There will be few winners and many losers. With Amazon, Google and UberEats now moving into the space—not to mention the expansion of GrubHub’s turnkey service—only the best will survive. So the question is: Where does that leave foodservice operators?

There are two possible scenarios
  1. Companies like Domino’s rely on third-party delivery companies to deliver their food
  2. They continue taking ownership of their own food delivery

Restaurant delivery isn’t for everyone. We know from our experience working with foodservice operators: delivery workforces are difficult to maintain.  

But if you offer delivery and you’re serious about becoming better at it, you have to become more serious about technology. You also have to become more serious about what’s going on in your stores. Domino’s can offer a pizza tracker because they’ve got the process for making a pizza down to a science. Even if you’re not at that level of tech, are you able to address problems in real time? Something as basic as an ingredient shortage or a failure to implement a new promotion can really hurt your bottom line.

Zenput is a mobile solution that helps foodservice operators gain valuable insights about their businesses in real-time. Whether you are exploring food delivery or looking to improve your current operations, Zenput can help you identify exceptions, timely address problems, and improve your restaurant operations. Zenput already helps the 5th largest Domino’s operator in the U.S. manage daily tasks and improve store productivity. Find out how Domino’s franchisee Hismeh Enterprises uses Zenput by checking out this case study.

Related

Wanna ‘Pizza’ Your Restaurant Competition? Customization and Technology Are Key

What Restaurants Considering Third-Party Delivery Need to Consider

Performing Regular Delivery Driver Audits Protects Employees and Customers

Topics: Restaurants, Delivery

Restaurant Cleanliness vs. Customer Service: Which Is More Important?

By David Mostovoy

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As a mobile solution provider in the foodservice industry, we've seen a clear trend in the food industry: that the public is concerned about both quality and food safety issues, especially with the proliferation of review sites and social media like Yelp, Google+, and Facebook. If a consumer has a bad experience, they will go on a site like Yelp and make that experience known to the world. As a result, restaurants must be increasingly concerned about the quality and safety of their food. Here's why that is now more important than ever:

Everyone remembers Chipotle’s difficult year in 2015, when the brand faced a multi-state E.Coli outbreak, followed by a norovirus attack in Boston. It was a big financial blow to one of America’s biggest food chains. According to CheckIt’s report, “The Financial Impact of Getting Food Safety Wrong,” Chipotle started 2016 as no company wants to—with a 44% drop in share price and a loss of $11 billion in value. Analysts have speculated it may take years for Chipotle to rebound.

It’s a sobering reality: if getting food safety wrong can be this devastating for a brand like Chipotle, one of the most popular chains in the nation, imagine the implications for smaller, lesser-known brands.

Why can’t restaurants rebound faster? It all comes down to consumer perceptions. CheckIt conducted a survey among UK consumers and concluded that cleanliness and food hygiene ratings have more influence than customer service when it comes to deciding whether or not to return to a restaurant.

Here are other key findings from this report:

75% of respondents would either never visit a food outlet implicated in a food poisoning/hygiene incident, or would only visit one if its management changed hands. 61% of respondents wouldn’t visit a restaurant of any sort that had a food hygiene rating of 2 or less (on a 0 to 5 scale, with 5 being the highest). 66% of respondents rated unclean or dirty premises as the first or second reason for not returning to a restaurant. 57% cited a low hygiene rating, and just 16% cited slow or poor service.

Here's the key takeaway: Customers would rather put up with bad service than eat at a dirty restaurant.

Preventing What You Can Control

The study offers clear and convincing evidence that consumers take restaurant cleanliness seriously. It also illustrates the importance of preventing the issues that you can control.

Streamlining the process of gathering information and reacting to issues with restaurants’ food safety is vital in fostering an environment that puts food safety above all else. With a mobile solution like Zenput, restaurants can create food safety audits to check for things like:

  • Clean counters and floors
  • Proper cleaning protocols and procedures
  • Appropriate food safety temperatures (compliant to HACCP)
  • Functional kitchen appliances
Zenput makes building and distributing audits and tasks, and gathering data on these types of audits simple. Audits can be distributed, completed by field-level employees, and data collected in a fraction of the time doing the same would take with paper forms. Once the audits are submitted, managers have access to a centralized dashboard with the data from every submission. Managers can pinpoint submissions, filter by users and locations, and set up tasks to be automatically assigned to employees when certain conditions are met.

Real-time solutions really work. Take a closer look at Zenput’s task and operations management solution here.

Topics: Restaurants

Starbucks vs. McDonald’s: A Fair Fight for Breakfast Dollars?

By Joe Skupinsky

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“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of breakfast, it was the age of dicsovering if premium works better over value in a crowded industry.” How do you like my intro for “The Tale of Two Retailers”? I’m no Dickens, but I can’t help but compare McDonald’s All-Day Breakfast with Starbucks recently announced brunch test.

If you missed the latter news, Starbucks is testing a “Weekend Brunch” menu in select markets. As you may have guessed, the menu is offered only on weekends. The program began in late August in 78 Starbucks stores in the greater Portland and Seattle area. Brunch foods, including Belgian waffles, baked French toast, and quiche made from cage-free eggs, can be ordered from about 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. or until the food supply runs out.

Testing brunch is yet another way Starbucks is trying to move past its just-a-coffeehouse image. Starbucks has also experimented with selling wine and beer to attract diners during the evening hours. Recently, the company also made separate commitments to stock Megpies artisan tarts and Bantam mini stuffed bagels, which appeared on the hit TV show “Shark Tank,” across thousands of locations. What do all of these items have in common? They’re premium upsells intended not only to drive customer traffic but drive profit margins.

And then there was the McDonald’s strategy…

Can Value Still Save McDonald’s?

In late July, McDonald’s Corp. reported weaker-than-expected same-store sales growth in its second quarter. All-Day Breakfast has been credited with driving sales earlier this year, so this was a sign that the menu could be losing some momentum. Business Insider also reported on unintended consequences of the All-Day Breakfast menu and McPick 2 menu, which allows customers to choose two items for $5. According to one analyst, customers may be “exploiting” the promotions to trade down to cheaper menu items, causing average values for lunch and dinner to fall and therefore dampening overall sales growth.

It’s not just analysts being critical of McDonald’s strategy. Franchisees have expressed their disapproval in a recent survey. "I am very alarmed about the discounting push. I have never seen the corporation be so aggressive with discounts,” one franchisee wrote. “The regional marketing teams are adding numerous other discounts to the McPick 2, primarily breakfast items. They are encouraging, quite literally, everything being on sale. This is a very hard cultural adjustment for me."

What’s the solution so that discounts don’t cannibalize sales growth? According to the same analyst, McDonald’s must lower labor costs and turn to automation. We already see that happening with the gradual rollout of self-ordering kiosks with premium offerings at some McDonald’s locations. It shouldn’t be about replacing employees with machines. Rather, automation should be about freeing up current employees to do other tasks, including properly executing menu items and ensuring accuracy of orders.

The Takeaway

There are many changes happening in both the quick-service and fast-casual restaurant segments. As the industry moves forward with technology and innovation, companies will need to have a solid grasp of restaurant-level insights as they pertain to basic operations. For instance, if a fresh beef patty is introduced to more McDonald’s stores (it’s being tested), are the right sanitation protocols being followed? Are fresh ingredients stored at the right temperatures? And as McDonald’s works to expand the All-Day Breakfast menu, franchisees must remember customer service is still crucial, especially for a financially fragile company.

Zenput is a mobile software solution that creates a chain of accountability within organizations, allows senior managers to gain insights on basic store operations, and enables real-time communication to address challenges as they arise. To learn more about Zenput for restaurant operations, click here.

Topics: Restaurants

3 Reasons Why Your C-store Pricing is Wrong

By Jennifer Hoffman

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There’s a convenience store right down the street from me. The other day, I stopped in there for two personal necessities: milk for my cereal and gum for my desk at work. This store is a small mom-and-pop operation, and it became apparent to me that mom and pop also don’t believe in clearly pricing their goods. I paid about $4 for those two items, and I can’t tell you how the pricing broke down because neither shelf nor product was marked.

Sure, in a perfect retail setting, every store has clear and accurate pricing. Promotions are also accurately priced and displayed. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world.  Human error abounds and the most “cutting-edge” retailers can make pricing mistakes. If mom and pop make a pricing error, it can be chalked up to their small operation (although, I prefer “tough love” and not giving them a pass). If Whole Foods makes a pricing error across their chain, it can become a brand-damaging narrative that the media pounces on, and that’s what actually happened.

The reality is that you can’t afford not to audit your prices because there’s a good chance your prices are wrong! Here are three reasons why:

1. The human factor
Employees can miss a SKU when adjusting prices or they may accidentally overlook information about pricing changes. Employee turnover or insufficient training can also play a role here. Store managers, whether accidentally or not, may deviate from corporate pricing structure.

2. The “computer” factor
Pricing in the retailer’s information system can also be inaccurate. It could be wrong CPG data from the manufacturer or vendor. As a result, the wrong price is recorded at the store level. Important note: At some point, you have to draw the line between machine and human accountability. That’s why I put “computer” factor in quotes. Pricing isn’t static and at the end of the day, someone—preferably more than one person—needs to cross-reference the accuracy of the information in the system.

3. The promotions factor
Misplaced point-of-purchase materials, mispriced compared to competitors, lack of in-store visibility. These are all problems related to your promotions. That’s the diagnosis, but the remedy is real-time information. If you’re regularly auditing your stores and accounting for these things—and most importantly, if you can fix them in real time—you will have a competitive advantage.

Remember that your customers are only spending a couple of minutes in your convenience store. In terms of customer service, you may not have time to ask your regular customer how their kids are doing. You may not have the time to know your customer that well. But when you provide accurately priced goods that are conveniently placed and your employees are knowledgeable about promotions, you’ve just won in customer service.

So, how about checking those prices? Mom and pop would write down the SKU and flip through a book or check their computer. Meanwhile, the super competitors are scanning  a barcode for instant data. That’s where the technology is heading, and you should go with it.

Zenput is a mobile software solution that allows retailers to be proactive vs. reactive. It’s a platform where insights can be shared easily and instantly. The Zenput app also incorporates a barcode scanner for SKU verification. With Zenput, retailers gain the ability to verify promotional pricing and respond to pricing inconsistencies at the store level—all in real-time.

To learn more about Zenput’s functionality in convenience stores, click here.

Topics: C-store

What Restaurants Considering Third-Party Delivery Need to Consider

By Brian Harris

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I recently came across a post on the website of a business loan provider. They must be in the food space because their post was about increasing restaurant delivery sales. The top two suggestions the firm offered, in this order, were: Online partnerships with delivery services and ensuring quality.

But based on the results of a recent Technomic study, I would have to reverse those in order of importance. Quality earns repeat customers and new customers. Quality is how you grow your business. Quality improves with better communication, and the restaurant is ultimately responsible for quality, even if you’re using a third-party delivery service.

Third-party delivery will make mistakes, but ultimately your restaurant is still on the hook.  This isn’t just my opinion—your customers are thinking it. Technomic’s study, “On Demand Delivery: Disrupting the Future of Foodservice,” confirms that even if restaurants have a formal agreement with third-party ordering portals and delivery services, the majority of consumers (76%) hold the restaurant at least partially responsible for any errors.

“This puts operators’ brand reputation at risk each time a customer orders delivery through these services,” said Melissa Wilson, a principal at Technomic. “Even if delivery is not a current strategic initiative, operators should educate themselves about and understand the dynamics of the third-party delivery market so they can put guardrails in place to maintain quality and brand reputation.”

Other than demanding the best service from your third-party delivery service, what can a restaurant do to minimize risk? Maybe it’s a matter of moving faster in food preparation. Or maybe it’s using better packaging that improves presentation.

Maybe we need to find out where to start!

So here’s a better question: When a delivery problem is reported, and you know it’s something the restaurant could have done differently, do you have a way of addressing it at the restaurant level?

For instance, if the wrong meal arrives or a meal is prepared incorrectly, does the restaurant have the ability to respond quickly?  Delivering a replacement meal or missing item might depend on the contract you have with a third-party delivery service. But maybe you should set a standard policy to email the person who files a complaint a coupon for a free appetizer or a percentage off their next bill. The restaurant that doesn’t respond loses customers.

And although mistakes happen, that doesn’t mean restaurants should write off third-party delivery services. The fact remains that third-party services are generating additional business for casual dining restaurants and other concepts that do not offer delivery. More than a third of third-party users (34%) reported ordering from casual dining restaurants and 14% had ordered from family-style restaurants that did not offer delivery on their own.

Here are more important insights from the Technomic study:

Chains on top

Chain restaurants are almost twice as likely as independents to receive delivery orders. Two-thirds of delivery orders either placed with a restaurant (69%) or via third-party service (66%) were from a chain restaurant.

Burger-happy

One in five third-party service users ordered a burger. Pizza is still king in restaurant delivery, but the fact that 20% of restaurants are comfortable ordering items that restaurants have previously feared delivering themselves bodes well for the industry. It’s a sign that users are taking advantage of the wider variety of options available.

These findings are further evidence that restaurants have to think more critically about quality and how it translates to delivery of various menu items. Moreover, chain restaurants have an opportunity to create a set of best practices that can be shared across their network.

Zenput is a mobile solution that can help share those best practices and track compliance. It also provides a means of communicating real-time insights at the store-level. To learn more about how Zenput helps improve restaurant operations, click here.

Topics: Restaurants