By David Warns, Watchfire Signs


The National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) Show just took place in Las Vegas, and it was clear that the industry has made a giant pivot to fresh food, including prepared meals as well as produce, cheese, meat and grocery items.

The show floor was packed with vendors that enable c-stores to offer items that 10 years ago were unthinkable, including fresh pizza, tacos, salad bars, deli sandwiches, vegan/vegetarian items, and gourmet drinks.

According to the recent NACS State of the Industry report, c-store foodservice provided 22.5 percent of in-store sales and 33.9 percent of gross-profit dollars in 2017, up 4 percent for the year.

Yet when customers drive up to a c-store, they often aren’t expecting fresh fruits and vegetables, ready-to-go meals, and more health-conscious fare. That’s where outdoor and indoor digital signage can play a huge role in changing shopper perceptions and boosting sales.


Digital Signage Pulls Shoppers into the Store

While most customers still frequent a c-store for fuel, outdoor digital signage can highlight what’s inside the store without cluttering up windows with a lot of signs. Digital signage gives c-store owners the ability to advertise meals-to-go, fresh produce and other items, introducing fuel customers to the inside of the store before they even step foot in it. The flexibility of digital displays also allows owners to highlight items based on time of day: specialty coffee in the morning, ready-to-eat meals at noon, healthy snacks mid-day, and take-and-bake items in the evening.

Digital displays also help draw customers away from competitors, including nearby fast food restaurants. According to the NACS report, quick serve restaurants gained trips in 2017, while c-stores trips fell, mainly due to heavy value meal advertising. Showing consumers that c-stores carry healthy alternatives to fast food will help capture sales that otherwise would take place down the road.

In addition, as electric cars become more mainstream, c-stores will become convenient locations to power up. Since charging takes 20-30 minutes, digital signage will be key to drawing motorists inside the store to shop or eat while waiting.

The Family Express chain of convenience stores installed digital message centers at nearly every one of their Midwest locations to advertise their made-to-order food service and to better promote their proprietary brands. By delivering dayparted communications to customers, advertising messages were immediately actionable.

Likewise, MotoMart convenience stores in Illinois credit their digital signs with increased sales of high-margin products and services. Changeable messages on their outdoor signs improved sales, drawing customers from the gas pumps into the store to take advantage of special deals that featured the store’s most profitable products.


Digital Signs Guide Shoppers Inside the Store

Once inside, digital displays can be used to guide shoppers to high-profit centers, including fresh food, restaurants, coffee bars and beer caves.

Since c-stores are carrying more perishable food items, advertising perishables on indoor and outdoor digital signs can lead to increased sales of these items. In addition, the flexibility of digital signs means that managers can quickly promote items and boost sales of perishables that otherwise would be thrown out.

Finally, digital signage is one of the most cost-effective and flexible forms of advertising available, allowing store managers to easily change messages to respond to things like weather (hot/cold drinks, umbrellas), area sporting events (tailgate and party supplies), life events (fresh flowers, gift cards) and even high lottery jackpots (lottery tickets).

As c-stores continue to disrupt the retail environment, it’s more important than ever to be able to effectively grab the attention of customers and influence their perception of c-stores. Digital signage meets this need better than any other form of messaging.


David Warns is vice president of sales at Watchfire Signs. He can be reached at 800-637-2645.