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October 24, 2011

This year’s convention marked the 50th anniversary of the founding of NACS and it was clear that the organization is full of vitality.  Here are a few things that caught my attention, that if I hadn’t been there I would have missed learning. 

  • Convenience retailers are upbeat and feeling pretty good about where they are in this tough economy.  This mood is quite different from what I see at other industry meetings.  Convenience retailers know that they sell many products that are essential parts of the everyday lives of many people and are well aware that their service of providing these products isn’t something that can be sent offshore.  I think this is an important part of why this year’s show was so upbeat.
  • There’s a lot of technology in the exhibits on display and most of the booths were very busy.  Much of it focused exclusively or mainly on back office and administrative functions, which of course, are always important.  What surprised me though was that only a relatively small percentage of the technology was designed to engage or serve the customer.  Yes, there were some nice loyalty programs offered, but many fewer kiosks, interactive digital devices, and tools that help shoppers integrate online information and services into their shopping than I would have expected.  I did, however, see a digital display system (Lift Retail) that cleverly encourages proactive selling by providing the customer with a visual sign at checkout, and the clerk with a script to explain the offer.  Apparently this has been able to consistently increase basket size.
  • The NACS/CCRRC had two workshops and there were fresh learnings from both sessions.  One session focused on the importance of strong employee retention. Along with a number of “how tos”, this session showed me that in these hard economic times, convenience retailers have been able to hire a staff with talent and experience that wouldn’t have been available in better times.  It’s good to see some companies working hard to hold onto this windfall of human talent because they see it as a powerful way to improve their business.
  • The other NACS workshop presented the results of new research showing that the economy, as well as, digital technology are changing the way people shop and that this is creating an opportunity for retailers to find ways to become more relevant to today’s shoppers.  This typically means providing good price/value plus other things that these customers want and need.  Exploring what these others things are is the primary goal of the current NACS/CCRRC research project. 

Bill Bishop
Research Director
NACS/Coca‑Cola Retailing Research Council
Founder, Willard Bishop Consulting and Chief Architect