Wawa adds self-checkout, drive-thru, and delivery as it adapts to changing shopping habits

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To make convenience stores more convenient, Wawa lets customers skip the store entirely.

Buyers can order on their mobile phones and have coffee delivered to their cars. A few wawa stores have drive-through windows like fast food restaurants. You can also have Hoagies delivered to your home if you want to stay at home. And for those who still like the store ambience, Wawa has self-checkout kiosks so you can get out faster.

In this way, Wawa is trying to keep up with the changing shopping habits caused by technology and accelerated by the pandemic. The Delaware County-based chain of 940 stores is no longer just competing with the 7/11 in the world. Tech companies like Gopuff and Amazon are transforming retail with half-hour delivery and cashier-less stores. Further changes could be in sight from Pizza robot to “mobile shops” that can be called like a taxi.

Convenience stores have to adapt if they are to survive in the 21st century, say industry experts. Even Wawa, a fixture in the Philadelphia area with extremely loyal customers, knows it can’t sit back and relax.

“Look back 20 or 30 years and Sears was a popular brand,” said Jim Morey, Wawa’s chief brand officer, referring to the bankrupt retailer. “They haven’t adapted and changed, and that will happen to everyone. It is therefore one of our values ​​to embrace change. “

Wawa’s roadside pickup and delivery options were planned before the pandemic, but ramped up during the health crisis. The coronavirus prompted the company to test other ideas as well.

The company opened its first drive-thru this year to investigate operations and customer adoption. One place in Falls Township is just to pick up the vehicle. Another in Westampton has a drive-thru window bolted to a traditional shop. Wawa plans to open a few more next year.

“We have specifically opened this with one reason and only one reason. That’s supposed to answer the question, ‘Can we do this?’ ”Morey said. “We learned we can.”

The company limited its drive-thru menu and faced initial technical challenges such as: B. the exact acceptance of voice orders. Wawa quickly overcome these issues and now operates the drive-thru stores efficiently, said company spokeswoman Lori Bruce.

Then there are the self-checkout kiosks that many customers have noticed recently. Wawa ran a self-service pilot during the pandemic and found the kiosks got customers through stores faster. It also enabled Wawa to offer a more socially detached checkout option, Bruce said. The machines can now be found in more than 60 branches.

The main purpose of these changes is to make shopping more convenient for consumers, but there may be other unplanned benefits as well, said John Stanton, professor of food marketing at St. Joseph’s University and a former Wawa advisor. The online ordering or self-checkout kiosks can ultimately help Wawa sell more goods to customers or reduce labor costs.

“When you really focus on the customer, there are always some of those little perks that add up,” said Stanton.

The vast majority of Wawa’s customers still come into stores and self-serve, but consumers are taking online orders through the company’s mobile app. Digital orders have tripled since the pandemic, Morey said. Sometimes the same customer buys in the store in the morning and later orders online.

So-called omni-channel customers buy 30% more products than those who only shop in-store or online, said Brittain Ladd, a global strategy and supply chain consultant. That’s one of the reasons the Philadelphia-based web retailers Amazon or Gopuff have opened brick-and-mortar stores while Wawa is going digital.

“When customers can interact with a retailer of their choice in different ways, online or in-store, they end up buying more products,” said Ladd.

Economists have predicted that the pandemic would accelerate the trend for robots to replace people in the workforce, with cashiers being particularly at risk. But self-checkout doesn’t mean the end of the wawa worker, Morey said.

The vending machines are only one option as the cashiers are still available to check out customers. And food prep is a growing part of the business, with workers having to make hoagies and drinks as needed, he said.

“We need more workers than ever,” said Morey. “And we will always have someone there to review our customers.”

The new services have some drawbacks. Delivery contracts are less profitable for Wawa with the additional delivery costs, but the company hopes to increase that customer base. The company has successfully tested the deployment itself but is sticking to third-party services for now, Morey said.

Wawa, the privately held company with the highest turnover according to Forbes, has a long history of significant change. At the beginning of the 20th century it changed from an iron foundry to milk processing. When the milk delivery business dried up, the company opened its first grocery store in 1964. Today it has stores in six states and Washington DC and employs 38,000 people.

When Wawa saw consumers becoming drawn to ready-made meals, its deli shifted from selling cold cuts to making hoagies, said Stanton, the former Wawa advisor. He recalled a meeting where a top manager said the chain would never sell gasoline. It now has 60 charging stations for electric vehicles.

Some additions to Wawa, like the order kiosk, turned out to be big hits, Stanton said. Others, such as baristas who prepare Starbucks specialty coffees, were unsuccessful. Either way, he praises the company for trying things that customers might like.

“That’s probably why it’s one of the best-run convenience stores in America,” said Stanton.

Competition from tech companies could force Wawa to change even more. Wawa’s new self-checkout kiosks follow the cashierless technology in the Amazon Go stores, where customers with cameras and shelf sensors can select and leave items without checking out. Amazon later charges the customer’s credit card. There are currently no Amazon Go stores in the Philadelphia area, but the company has opened an Amazon Fresh grocery store in Warrington that does not require cashiers.

Ladd predicts that convenience stores will be even more innovative, adding pharmacy kiosks that dispense medication or branded vans that act as mobile stores that drive around town and move goods. Customers could call the van to their location, similar to an Uber ride. Finally, convenience stores can change prices hourly based on demand or promotions.

“Other convenience store chains are using these technologies,” said Ladd. “Regardless of how loyal a Wawa customer is today, when they see another convenience store chain that offers them more products, better service at a better price, and makes it easier to get in touch with them, they will Leave it to do it slowly but surely. “


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