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A Seminal Moment for Convenience

A Seminal Moment for Convenience

That sound you hear?

It’s the sound of the convenience store industry’s version of Paul Revere riding cross-country, amid a pandemic, to let everyone know that a heck of a lot of change is underfoot. Only this time it isn’t the redcoats who are coming.

It’s tech.

And the only real question that remains is just how disruptive all the change could eventually be.

Across the first two weeks of August alone, the convenience store industry has seen a rash of announcements that would make even the most stalwart retail innovation curmudgeons stand up and say, “Ok, something is definitely going on here.”

While each on their own means something, taken together, their combined impact is even more profound. The only real question that remains is just how disruptive all the change could eventually be.

Amazon deserves credit for starting to roll the ball of transformation down the proverbial hill. In the span of just a little over two years, Amazon launched a roughly 3,000 square foot version of its checkout-free retail marvel that is Amazon Go, has since scaled the concept up to 10,000 square feet to also include grocery items, and now Amazon appears to be on the precipice of adding the nation’s capital to its mix of approximately 30 Amazon Go-style stores already in operation.

Not to be outdone, Circle K now plans to partner with Standard Cognition of Y Combinator fame to create its own version of an Amazon Go-style operation. Only this purported effort is different. Standard Cognition, according to its press release, claims that Circle K customers, unlike Amazon Go which requires an app scan, “will be able to simply walk in, take what they like, and walk out, without having to scan anything or wait in line to pay.”

Standard Cognition also claims that its planned “Arizona store will also mark the first-ever retrofit of an existing convenience store with autonomous checkout technology,” meaning Standard Cognition’s planned system will work within an existing Circle K store’s “layout, fixtures and lighting, as well as their existing inventory management and replenishment processes,” which means, for those reading between the lines, that the new setup will not require shelf sensors, either, something many theorize is a hallmark of Amazon’s and other competitors’ checkout-free setups.

If true, these claims are bold, audacious, and could lead to rapid adoption if the test is successful.

The claims also come on the heels of 7-Eleven announcing similar plans way back in February. Effectively two of the biggest convenience store chains have now said to everyone: “This checkout-free convenience thing? Yeah, we better start to understand it.”

But, as big of realizations and watermarks that the preceding activities are, they also pale in comparison to the significance of what Wawa’s and DoorDash’s announcements could mean.

DoorDash’s announcement of DashMart is the shot heard round the world. As a third-party delivery provider and an actual online convenience store operator, DoorDash has staked a new claim on what has heretofore been undiscovered territory. While GoPuff was already setting the convenience industry ablaze with its direct-to-consumer efforts, DoorDash’s moves have the potential to kick everything up to a Spinal Tap-esque 11 real quick.

By Chris Walton, Forbes.com

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