CSD: Would You Like Wi-Fi With That?

Mar 24, 2010

By Erin Rigik

Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary
of an article from Convenience Store Decisions magazine.

Wi-Fi is a trendy offering customers are clamoring for, and it’s starting
to appear at more c-store locations, including BP, Nice N Easy Grocery Shops
and Rutter’s Farm Stores, especially as chains expand their foodservice programs
and look for new ways to pull foot traffic into the store.

Starbucks has long attracted customers into its locations with help from free
wireless internet options through its rewards card. Beginning in mid-January,
McDonald’s began providing free internet access to 11,000 of the company’s
13,000 U.S. locations. As other QSRs follow suit, c-stores with competing foodservice
offerings are starting to feel the heat.

"A lot of customers want free Wi-Fi. Since we are on a busy interstate
we feel it’s a nice perk to offer customers who have been on the road," said
Chris Savard, operator of Mighty Mart Convenience Stores in Fort Morgan, Colo.

At the grand opening of the company’s new store off Interstate 76, the company
debuted its free wireless service to entice customers, especially truckers. "We
have a little lounge they can sit in with a sofa and chairs, so they can check
their email and take a break from the road," he said.

Mr. Savard is also hopeful that the wireless option will drive the store’s
food court that includes Chester’s chicken, Hunt Brothers Pizza and a proprietary
burrito program.

Larger chains are investing in similar strategies. BP, for example, has installed
wireless hotspots at more than 100 BP sites across the U.S. and more are planned
in the coming months.

Rutter’s Farm Stores, which has more than 55 stores in Pennsylvania, has been
offering free wireless for about eight months now at its 37 or so stores that
offer foodservice. "We look at it as a unique offering for customers that
sets us apart from other stores, particularly restaurants," said Scott
Hartman, president of the York, Pa. chain.

More importantly, Rutter’s customers have expressed gratitude for the service. "We
get emails from customers thanking us for it, or if we’re having some sort
of network issue we get customers asking about that and wondering when it’s
coming back up. So the customer response seems quite positive," said Mr.

Discussion Questions: How much of a traffic driver is free Wi-Fi for c-stores?
How critical is it becoming in supporting foodservice programs? Should c-stores
be offering it for free or tie it into rewards programs or other initiatives?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

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13 Comments on "CSD: Would You Like Wi-Fi With That?"

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Dr. Stephen Needel
11 years 1 month ago

I always thought the idea of a c-store was convenience. If c-stores want to transform themselves into a coffee house, that’s great (if the business is there and they can compete). But if you want to be a c-store and not a coffee house, Wi-Fi is pretty useless.

Carol Spieckerman
11 years 1 month ago

As C-stores build their food programs, Wi-Fi is a completely logical tie-in. Wi-Fi will turn take-and-go food into stay-and-eat (and buy more) and will also appeal to truckers and travelers who need to check in with family or the office. As previously pointed out, C-stores are supposed to be about convenience; connectivity is right up there with bathrooms in that regard. Convenience stores could then create branded online information hubs and multi-channel loyalty programs. This is a no brainer!

Ryan Mathews
11 years 1 month ago

Time to take a deep breath. Sometime in the hopefully near future many–if not most–large communities will have free municipal Wi-Fi. In addition, wireless telephone companies keep reducing the cost of plug-in Wi Fi systems. So…if it’s ubiquitous and/or free where is the long-term competitive advantage?

As to the idea of Wi-Fi in c-stores, it only makes sense if there’s also a sit down eating area but my guess is that–in the real world–that space would be filled by loitering kids texting, tweeting and gaming, not necessarily the audience most brand marketers have in mind.

Camille P. Schuster, PhD.
11 years 1 month ago

If a C-store or any retail location wants consumers to come and spend time at the location, free Wi-Fi is certainly a drawing card. More consumers have phones and PDAs that access data wirelessly and will look for locations that provide Wi-Fi. This is a great strategy if you want these consumers.

Richard J. George, Ph.D.
11 years 1 month ago

The obvious transition of C-stores from fill-in groceries to foodservice lends itself nicely to free Wi-Fi. In addition, it gives them the opportunity to provide an additional dimension to the term “convenience.”

I would consider WiFi as a potential tie-breaker when choosing between C-stores as well as other McDonald’s and Starbucks types of offerings. How you execute this concept relative to seating and access to Wi-Fi is important. But one thing is universal about retail customers: the longer customers are in the store, the more they buy. If Wi-Fi breaks ties or keeps people on property longer, the potential for sales gains and repeat business is significant.

Susan Rider
Susan Rider
11 years 1 month ago

This service in the future will not be considered a value add but an “expected” service. Today it’s a differentiator tomorrow a negative if they don’t have it.

Truck drivers, delivery people that need a quick break stop at the C-stores deli for a quick lunch…Wi-FI service in the future will be as normal as getting your telephone connected. Oops! That will be an obsolete process!

It won’t be just coffee houses that have Wi-Fi. Grocery stores, malls, service stations, restaurants, parks…it will be the norm. We’ve entered the information age; those who evolve will survive, those who resist change will fall.

Ben Sprecher
Ben Sprecher
11 years 1 month ago

As Paco Underhill describes in the book “Why We Buy,” many “fast food” consumers actually eat their food in the parking lot in their cars. Having Wi-Fi that reaches out to the parking lot could make the difference between the consumer choosing your place or the Drive-Thru down the street.

Besides, what better way to collect the contact information of your most frequent shoppers than to have them sign up for your Wi-Fi service? Even if they don’t want to opt in to receiving email, you can always show them a welcome page when they sign in that displays today’s specials. Or, better yet, if you have a frequent shopper program, have them provide their ID when the sign up for the first time, and then each time they log in, show targeted ads based on their past purchases.

Bill Emerson
Bill Emerson
11 years 1 month ago

Wi-Fi makes great sense in any environment where you want your customer to linger. Food service makes sense as do truck stops. However, if the model requires moving people through the environment rapidly (the classic definition of a c-store), it’s probably useful to beware the law of unintended consequences. It seems we had a discussion here not so long ago about how Starbucks was struggling with customers coming in and camping out for the morning while they nursed a tall decaf and used the free internet access. This tied up the tables and took away seating for (and irritating) other customers (not a great customer service strategy).

Doron Levy
Doron Levy
11 years 1 month ago

How much time is a customer actually spending in a C-store? I don’t get the value for the customer here. I’m either, filling up, getting a quick snack, lottery, cigarettes, coffee, etc. These are high velocity items that don’t warrant any browsing time. The foods service end of it also boggles the mind. C’s don’t have a lot of space so I’m sure the owner wouldn’t want someone talking up 25% of the tables so they can surf at their leisure. C stands for convenience and the stores are laid out in such a way. Forget about Wi-Fi and add more gift cards.

Bill Hanifin
11 years 1 month ago

The distinction to make here is between convenience stores that are sprinkled about urban areas and truck-stop style footprints located proximate to interstate highways.

Wi-Fi makes sense in these settings when the layout of the store encourages and accommodates a longer stay, maybe even a shower or nap for travelers and truckers.

Adding Wi-Fi to the everyday C-store around town or at fuel stations will encourage an odd social behavior, i.e. a parking lot full of people not buying anything, but making a “pit stop” to check an email while in between appointments, etc.

If the C-store or fuel station does not have a cafe, I would resist the Wi-Fi offer. I would also only offer it with purchase in-store or membership in something like Noco’s Family Club (Western New York). In those cases, access could be restricted to people coming in store or which are regular customers. It could also be time limited to some extent.

Herb Sorensen
11 years 1 month ago

This is a further move in the direction of serving PEOPLE, filling their needs, not limiting our self-concept simply to the merchandise we carry. Extending the service to the parking lot is even more attractive, not only for the on site consumers, but as an attractive force bringing people to a stop, just so they can log on. When they have finished that business, why not run into the store to pick a little something up!

This leverages another important principle at retail: attraction and selling are two different things. In this post we are focusing on attraction. As long as the ATTRACTION is not too costly (Wi-Fi isn’t,) then do it! Don’t mix up attraction and selling in your thinking. One precedes the other. But systematic SELLING is a whole ‘nuther animal. : )

Kai Clarke
11 years 1 month ago

Wi-Fi is a low-cost driver to get customers to stay longer at a C-store. The longer the customer stays, the more they buy. It is as simple as that. Better yet, Wi-Fi is a low-cost high value offering. Broadband access with a single Wireless N router is but a few hundred dollars a month. This cost probably pays for itself in less than a few days, without factoring in the increased customer satisfaction. Perhaps the real question is why a C-store would opt NOT to install Wi-Fi at all of their locations?

David Livingston
11 years 1 month ago

I like being able to pull into the parking lot and check my email and the RetailWire.com. I might go in the store or I might not. One thing for sure, the C-store got me into their parking lot and that’s half the battle. They don’t have to worry about me parking myself inside the store and nursing a cup of coffee.


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