7-Eleven and delivering convenience in the digital era

Head of strategy and technology shares the latest steps taken to bring digital capability into the heart of the convenience retailing business

The meaning of the word convenience has changed a lot in the digital era. For 7-Eleven, which has built its brand on convenience, understanding exactly what that word means to consumers is going to go a long way to determining its long-term success.

The emergence of home delivery services such as Menulog, Deliveroo and Uber Eats has shifted the relationship between brands and consumers, with the latter group believing the former needs to come to them now, rather than the other way around.

For 7-Eleven, its response included the acquisition of a majority stake in the alcohol delivery startup, Tipple, back in 2018, followed by other forays into last-mile delivery services. But despite these investments, 7-Eleven general manager for strategy and technology, Stephen Eyears, still wishes the company had been another year ahead of where it was when COVID-19 hit.

“We were experimenting with small scale trials of last mile,” Eyears tells CMO. “We went from small-scale trial to quite large trials very quickly. We are trying to learn our way through that whole environment - what do customers really want, what are they not prepared to pay for, how can we optimise logistics and the experience of stores.

“It is now starting to flow through to some of our food offers, which is where we want to get to. If you want to be really good in the food business, you need to be in the last-mile business as well.”

Eyears joined 7-Eleven seven years ago in a strategy role and was soon appointed to head up the company’s customer digital transformation investments. Since then, he has installed Matt Barrett as head of innovation, with head of marketing, Julie Laycock, taking on customer experience.

That has freed Eyears up to focus on digital initiatives, which have included flipping the entire organisation over to agile development methodologies. This has enabled the company to accelerate its digital initiatives. One of the most prominent is the recent relaunched of the My 7-Eleven app, which is becoming the digital connection point between the company and its consumers.

“Relaunching My 7-Eleven is clearly about being more convenient for customers, but we want customer data like everyone else wants customer data, so we can anticipate people’s needs and respond to them,” Eyears says.

Leveraging data

The company has also made significant investments in building the platform to house that data and draw insights from it.

“In terms of leveraging data, we are crawling, and starting to walk,” Eyears says. “We are going to experiment a lot and be really conservative about how we use the data. But there is an exciting future, because being able to respond near-real and real-time to what people are doing, and what they might want, and where they are, and what time of day. It is super fascinating.”

In addition to exploring how to offer greater convenience in the last mile, Eyears says 7-Eleven is also examining digital transformation opportunities within its stores. This includes extensions to the pay-and-go solution the company implemented at the demonstration store at its headquarters in Cremorne, Melbourne.

“We are just about to go into a new version of that in a significantly larger number of stores,” Eyears says. “So we will scale it, but you will always be able to any way you like.”

The digital reinvention of store environments will also extend into back-end systems and processes.

“We naturally do everything with the store at the front of our minds,” Eyears says. “’Simpler for the customers, simpler for stores’ is the mantra. We can’t make something really good for the customer if we make it really complicated for the store – that is not going to work.”

Hence Eyears says he is examining point-of-sales systems and introducing new services such as ticketing.

“All that stuff that takes up so much time and energy, so how do you digitise all that in a way that makes sense,” he says. “We want to serve them as quickly as possible. If it is 120 seconds, how do we get it to 90, or how do we get it to 60.

“In a digital environment with digitally engaged customers, how do you get a version of a POS system that is super flexible and super intuitive and super adaptable.”

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