The future of convenience stores is an interesting topic that intersects a few major cultural shifts in the post covid world. I've been thinking about this topic a lot for the past couple months, so I'll try to break it down by topic here. Would love to hear everyone else's opinions, as every family member I've tried to corner into this discussion has managed to escape.
Throwing away the valuation arguments, I don't think anyone disagrees that our future is going to be one where electric cars are the majority. Those cars are going to need power stations outside of one's home. The obvious solution currently seems like installing quick charge stations at gas stations. To my knowledge however, the technology to fully charge as quickly as a full tank of gas is far away. Do the convenience stores attached to gas stations therefore need to adapt by luring in customers for a longer experience? How would this be done, service based (charge and a haircut? shoeshine?) or do they develop more enjoyable lounge type atmospheres where customers can enjoy a cup of coffee? Will customers ever want to spend time at gas stations? If they really don't want to (I don't think they will), will they technology develop instead for replaceable batteries?
Commercial real estate
Some are predicting covid to be the catalyst that finally kills off Malls and shopping centres in favour of online shopping. If that's the case, will those malls (at least partially) convert to distribution centres? It seems plausible, Malls are generally located near population centres and close to major transportation routes . Convenience stores are similarly strategically located, on a more localized scale. Could they become a sort of secondary distribution centre, bringing orders to the final last mile step of their journey? Partnerships with shipping companies and large convenience store chains seem likely to me
All of these delivery companies have seen an explosion in use thanks to the pandemic. Some convenience store chains include their products on this service, allowing customers to order say a bag of chips delivery from their phone for a small premium. It's unclear how many customers are paying the premium for convenience vs. for preventing sickness. It'll be interesting to see how sticky this customer base is post-covid.
Cash free society
Before the pandemic cash was becoming an increasingly uncommon payment method. Now that covid has required essentially all businesses to create cash free payment methods, cash seems to be nearly obsolete. Many independent convenience stores would benefit greatly from cash payments for tax reasons. Will this lead to increased pressure on independents, and accelerate consolidation by big chains? I'll admit, this last one's a bit of a stretch, however I do think that the industry is going to consolidate greatly. Big chains by virtue of their size can make the major changes in operations and outside partnerships easier than small mom and pops.
In summary, I think major changes are on the horizon for convenience stores, and I'm surprised this isn't talked about more. Personally, I don't see how the mom and pops will be able to compete. Convenience stores don't sell the quality products that help insulate mom and pop restaurants from large chains. It may be just a matter of time before independent convenience stores go the way of independent grocers