convenience store branding

Convenience Store Branding: Increase Loyalty Through Positive Experiences

Now is the Time to Proactively Focus on the Customer Experience

For owners and leaders of convenience store brands, having locations where customers need you most is ideal — but there’s far more that you can do beyond being present to strengthen loyalty and increase sales.

Convenience store branding itself plays a significant role in how shoppers perceive you and what their experiences are like when they shop. While convenience is part of the pitch, no one likes going into a store with outdated brand elements. An old or unkempt appearance tells shoppers that appearance doesn’t matter to the organization and that consequently, their experiences in your stores don’t matter. Would you shop at a store where you felt you didn’t matter?

You might be wondering why brand elements are so important when the convenience store industry itself is still struggling to return to pre-pandemic levels. According to the results of Convenience Store News’ 12th annual Realities of the Aisle consumer study, the number of shoppers who visited a convenience store at least once per week dropped from 75% to 65% in 2020. And understandably, due to work-from-home and school closures, the number of shoppers visiting c-stores while traveling to and from school or work dropped 15%.

But here’s an interesting one: the number of shoppers that consider the shopping experience to be “important” or “very important” in 2020 decreased 15% (though those that said it was “moderately important” increased by 9%). Don’t be fooled — an increased level of forgiveness when it comes to the shopping experience due to the pandemic isn’t going to last. As the vaccination rate steadily increases and shoppers continue to grow more comfortable shopping in-store, next year’s results could look dramatically different.

Another interesting tidbit from the CSN consumer study is that, of the 14% of shoppers who reported visiting c-stores more frequently in 2020, the largest gains were in the Millennial and Gen Z age groups. Gen Z in particular cares about positive experiences with brands, high customer satisfaction ratings, strong reviews, and other similar metrics that can’t be attained without focusing on experiences. With each generation already accounting for hundreds of billions of dollars in consumer spending annually, those preferences can’t be ignored.

Opportunities to Strengthen Convenience Store Branding

Exterior Signage

As with any other industry, your exterior signage is often the first impression between your customer and your brand. For c-stores, your exterior signage is a true beacon to road-weary travelers and people on the move locally. For those not from the communities where your stores are, it’s essential that your exterior signage is vibrant and functioning properly to be visible. Dim, flickering, or damaged signage is not only less visible — it’s also a deterrent. Visibly outdated signage will also take a back seat to more contemporary and eye-catching signage, diverting those dollars to your competitors.

Beyond large road and building signage, exterior messaging signs and even point of sale screens at gas pumps can help to deepen connections with customers and drive in-store sales. As noted by CStoreDecisions, research around digital media solutions at dispensers has shown to improve in-store sales on promoted items by nearly 40%. These solutions are already active in convenience store branding efforts for numerous companies, providing their customers with engaging media, entertainment, and special offers — make sure your brand isn’t falling behind at this critical touchpoint.

The bounce back: Learn how we helped Kangaroo Express with the fabrication and installation of more than 2,000 exterior signs.

Guiding Shoppers with Interior Signage

Consider this: 95% of all c-store purchasing decisions are made subconsciously, so signage that calls out certain products and directs the customer throughout your store is important. It’s essential that customers know exactly where to go right when they enter your store. They shouldn’t have to snake their way through every single aisle to find that one item or walk the entire interior perimeter to find that icy cool beverage they’re thirsting for. Finding restrooms should be quick and easy, and identifying any in-store food service options should be a breeze. After all, you’re a convenience store!

Interior signage identifying your spaces and services that’s designed, positioned, and installed will help your customers navigate your store layout with ease. Properly executed, this wayfinding signage can even help enhance the flow of foot traffic in your store — allowing customers to find what they need quickly, pay, and be on their way in no time. This helps prevent long lines, properly identifies the different spaces in your store, and keeps customers from clogging up aisles and getting too close to one another.

Digital signage is important here, too, as food services can use these to identify when customers’ orders are prepared, when bathrooms and showers are ready (for travel centers), and even share important brand messaging. And last but not least, experiential graphics can connect your convenience store branding with your local communities. Imagine walking into the store of a national brand but seeing graphics depicting local landmarks, structures, cultures, and sports teams. This makes your shoppers feel more at home with your location.

Growing connections: See how our interior and exterior signage program helped Cumberland Farms deepen its connection with customers.

Refreshing Your Appearance

In addition to signage and graphics, the entire design and layout of your store contributes to a positive customer experience. An outdated or worn exterior, severely stained and cratered concrete, aging or damaged walls and flooring, stained ceiling tiles, ragged seating and counters, creaky or wobbly cooler doors, and other obvious indications of age or wear are immediately off-putting to shoppers. These failure points take shoppers out of their comfort zone, make them painfully aware that the store is in need of repair, and — perhaps most important of all — will linger in their memories almost permanently.

Bathrooms are also essential here, as many convenience store customers will utilize those facilities during their visit. If your bathrooms appear outdated (even if they’re spotless), that experience will linger in customers’ minds. A negative restroom experience will stick in customers’ minds for a long time, and every time they drive by your store, they’ll remember that negative experience — and will steer for a different convenience store. Ensure that your restroom facilities are clean, updated, properly lit, and functioning.

Whether you have a few dozen locations regionally or a few thousand nationally, it’s essential that your convenience store branding delivers a positive experience. That experience should also be consistent across all locations. Imagine the impact on customer perceptions if they have a great experience at one store only to be met with dirt and damage at another. Periodic refreshes — minor updates executed across multiple locations — go a long way in keeping your interiors clean, contemporary, welcoming, and memorable. This goes beyond repairs and spruce-ups alone, as refreshing areas in your stores to align with emerging trends will keep customers coming back.

Keep Stores Shining Brightly

Lighting plays an immense role in everything from store navigation and safety to strengthening sales for certain products. It’s everywhere, too. Your exterior spaces are fully illuminated — or should be — and your interiors feature a variety of different lighting types. And when your stores’ lighting systems are not working properly, it immediately makes for a negative experience for customers and employees alike. Lighting that isn’t functioning can deter a customer away from your store to a competing location where they’ll feel safer.

Beyond the visible impact of lighting on convenience store branding, your organization can also benefit from significant short- and long-term energy savings. Using the latest lighting technology — such as photometric analysis to understand light distribution under pump coverings, around store structures, in parking areas, and more — will help you improve safety, make customers feel safe and welcome, and even reduce your energy utilization and costs.

Dig deeper: Learn how grocery stores use lighting to highlight certain products and promotional areas to drive increased sales, then apply that same strategy to your interior spaces to do the same.

Preserve Relationships with Ongoing Maintenance

While all of the recommendations provided thus far will help you strengthen customer loyalty and your overall convenience store branding, it’s important to protect these brand elements with an ongoing preventive maintenance strategy. All of your exterior and interior signage, your exterior and interior spaces, your lighting systems, and more will all require periodic maintenance to ensure they continue to perform well for years to come.

With a preventive maintenance program, you avoid the hassles and headaches associated with sign outages, poorly functioning lighting systems, and damaged or worn-down structural features. While on-demand maintenance support is always an option, taking this approach ensures that every time a customer comes into your c-store, all of your most critical brand elements will be functioning properly and contributing to the experience that’s essential to your convenience store branding.

Additionally, should the worst occur as a result of a natural disaster, working with a reliable — and extremely responsive — partner will ensure that your convenience store locations (which are essential when events like these occur) will continue to be there for their respective communities.

You Simplify Customers’ Lives — We’ll Simplify Yours

Built on a 150-year foundation of brand implementation excellence, Stratus is the partner your convenience store brand needs to strengthen customer loyalty. And with the challenges continuing to mount for this industry, there’s never been a more important time to consider how your brand elements are supporting your success. With Stratus as your resource for signage, energy and lighting solutions, preventive maintenance, and refresh & remodel services, we’ll help you understand how these elements are working for your growth.

With a national field partner network consisting of more than 2,300 partners, we’ll be there to support your convenience store branding from coast to coast. And thanks to our in-house signage manufacturing capabilities, we can develop virtually any type of signage you need while managing permits and handling variances on your behalf. Our program management team will take care of all due diligence efforts to ensure your locations — whether they’re new or have been community staples for decades — will be updated on time and on budget.

Ready to put our expertise to work for your convenience store branding? Connect with us today.