Retail reshaped by
convenience culture

The future of retail design is
convenience-driven and


Looking for more insights? Never miss an update.

The latest news, insights and opportunities from global commercial real estate markets straight to your inbox.

Let’s talk about something that touches billions of lives annually: french fries. This beloved snack is a great example of the quandary retailers are in these days: the challenge of balancing quality with speed and convenience.

Since fries have an extremely short shelf life, they must be delivered to the consumer as quickly as possible to preserve their hot, salty goodness. Speed is easy when they’re dining in, but those that opt for delivery find themselves waiting 30 minutes or more to enjoy a soggy, lukewarm version. In other words, they’ve sacrificed quality for convenience.

Therein lies the dilemma for retailers seeking to satisfy consumers at all levels. As convenience culture takes hold, many retailers are now incorporating technology such as contactless payment, interactive digital boards and QR codes to help meet expectations. They may also find themselves looking for guidance from one particular industry: fast food.

Consumers want it their way

In a recent survey with Big Village, we found that just half of consumers felt their most recent trip to a retail store met their expectations around convenience. That’s a far cry from the nearly 70 percent who felt the same way about fast food. With technological innovations offering rapid fulfillment and frictionless convenience – and nearly half of consumers telling us that they wish retail was as rapid as fast food—it’s clear retailers have a new bar to conquer.

 As we all know, restaurants have changed within the last few years. Taste and quality are still typically the main defining factors in terms of customer satisfaction, but speed and convenience are now high on the list as well. And many retailers are trying to square that.

Some brands such as Chick-fil-A are concentrating on the drive-thru line – how can it be made as fast as possible? Most Chick-fil-A locations serve well over 100 cars during peak hours, a number that the brand nearly doubled through what is known as its face-to-face ordering system. It replaces the traditional drive-thru speaker box with employees who walk the line holding tablets. Not only does this increase volume, but it also offers personalized service in an unexpected setting. They’re succeeding, too – 29 percent of consumers said Chick-fil-A exceeded their expectations around speed on their last trip. That’s more than any other brand tested – and it’s our highest possible measure.

Compare this to the 12 percent of Kroger shoppers or the 12 percent of Sephora consumers whose expectations were exceeded during their last trip, and you see the dilemma. Retailers are stumbling where fast food is sprinting. For once, French fries are good for the health… of the business.

Design for speed and convenience

Other brands are incorporating third-party delivery in their bag of tricks. Here, though, the challenge gets a little starker. Since third-party puts the final steps of the fulfillment process in someone else’s hands, brands have a hard time knowing whether those french fries will still be crisp or have turned soggy by the time they arrive.

 However, restaurants can really suffer with these types of distribution models and they’re going through the push-pull of delivering quality and convenience simultaneously. To wit, nearly seven out of 10 consumers said that their most recent fast-food deliveries were up to their expectations, while just half felt the same about retail.

Tech holds options for greater control

Another difficulty faced by businesses of all stripes is the struggle to meld technological convenience with a human-scale experience. Geofencing, or the use of technology to create a virtual geographic boundary, is one example. Since geofencing software triggers a response when a mobile device enters or leaves the area, it’s much easier to pinpoint when items will be picked up by a consumer.

Of course, there are privacy concerns to this, but consumers often ignore these in favor of faster pickup. For example, it’s estimated that 80 percent of Chick-fil-A customers with the app allow for geolocation. Crisp french fries for the win.

The takeaway

So how can we continue to preserve quality while still delivering speed and convenience? Let’s look again at our fast-food purveyors. Process is a major indicator of success here: highly efficient restaurants employ a multi-stage process taking the form of orders, money exchange and an additional process to clean up any errors.

Consumers also pointed to fast-food solutions they’d like incorporated into retail, such as a dedicated area to pick up online orders (63 percent), contactless payment through smartphones (54 percent), and a secure 24-hour locker for after-hours pickup (50 percent).

Retailers need to visualize the entire shopping process as a journey. From beginning to end, consumers want quality, speed and convenience. And if they enjoy a crisp french fry at the conclusion, so much the better.