CSD: Would You Like Wi-Fi With That?
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
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?