Consumers were once willing to pay more for an item if it was convenient. In our industry, this was snacks and beverages, which usually cost less per item if purchased from a grocery store and brought to work. Employees were OK with a few extra cents if they didn’t have to leave the comforts of the building. But this idea of paying more for convenience is slowly being eroded by online retailers, and it is making business more difficult for operators.
Let us take Amazon as an example of an online retailer. If you are one of the 300 million worldwide users, you understand the new style of convenience. From my couch I can order something in the exact color, material or brand I want. I can compare prices and read reviews. If I was shopping in person, I might have to visit two or three stores before finding the exact item I was looking for, and then I would look at the price and wonder if I went to a fourth store, would it be any cheaper. Amazon brings price and peer review to the idea of convenience, which is difficult to replicate in this industry.
Having to deal with consumers who use online retailers is an emerging topic of discussion as the industry evolves. Consumers dislike paying more for refreshment items, when the item isn’t the exact variety or flavor they want. Suddenly it’s not about convenience, but about how it isn’t their preferred flavor or that they consider the price too high. It’s about workplaces making purchases from online retailers instead of purchasing through the operator.
I think we will see a lot more of this challenge in the future, but there are some operators already breaking through traditional lines to establish themselves as must-have service providers.
To combat online retailers, I think operators need to go back to the basics, marketing their service and their story. Most operations are family businesses with a local interest in the community. This can have a distinct advantage over online retailers, especially with the popularity of buying local. Some OCS operators have increased their involvement in community events, others have dedicated more personnel to service — all in an effort to stay relevant and in front of their customers. Learn more from our OCS Provider Roundtable on page 36.
Other operators are trying to offer a more convenient shopping experience. A large number are adding different online ordering options to their Websites, see page 12. These can be full retail sites or just online ordering systems meant for their customers. Other companies are increasing their resources to promote themselves online since that is where consumers are shopping. Strategies will continue to evolve as more operators work to meet the needs and preferences of today’s locations, but there will remain a clear focus once again on service.