Speed Dial: Digitizing Mom and Pops

“You walk into a retail store, whatever it is, and if there’s a sense of entertainment and excitement and electricity, you wanna be there.” Howard Schultz, (CEO of Starbucks)

Who hasn’t gone to a convenience store to buy a soda and a snack?

In 2020 the global market for convenience stores including “mom and pops” reached approximately USD$910bn, this figure is expected to grow to USD$965bn in 2021 (6% annual growth) and to a total of USD$1.3tn for 2025 (9% annual growth). The Asia Pacific region represents 53% of the market and Africa 15% (Research and Markets).

In the United States, it is estimated that there are more than 150 thousand convenience stores, of which 61.4% are operated by a single owner. In Mexico there are approximately 700,000 grocery stores and in India, the market is even more fragmented with more than 12 million convenience stores (kiranas). The United States is the example of a mature economy with a density of 2,000 inhabitants per store, which contrasts with emerging economies such as Mexico and India, that have 186 and 108 inhabitants per store, respectively.

The convenience store sector is a large market in which large corporations have entered and created well-known c-store chains, such as 7-Eleven with 71 thousand stores worldwide, Oxxo with 17.5 thousand, Circle-K with 15 thousand, Tesco with 7 thousand, among others. This participation has displaced thousands of small (mostly family-owned) businesses in emerging markets. In addition, the competition becomes stronger as these big players introduce technologies around the points of sale, seeking customer flow and retention, driving increase in sales and margins that translates into greater financial profitability.

The main areas of disruption are:

  • E-commerce: Platforms and technologies that enable digitization and online sales. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, all physical stores have found it necessary to increase their sales channels and digital platforms as the best choice. Applications such as Wabi, Get Justo and Orchata in Latin America allow stores to create their online store or promote themselves in a marketplace, streamline the payment process and enable home delivery to customers nearby.
  • Last mile delivery: Platforms that enable stores to deliver the product to the customer’s frontdoor. Companies such as Pic Pack, Mensajeros Urbanos, Chazki and iVoy provide this service by connecting directly with the store, picking up the product, delivering it to your home and sending a delivery notification.
  • Inventory supply: A problem for convenience stores is getting their supply at a good cost and with logistical and operational efficiency. Platforms such as Chiper in Latin America, N-frnds (Israeli founded), Ula, Udaan and Bazaar in Southeast Asia are disrupting this space by enabling digital sourcing to shopkeepers. This is done through an intelligent device in which the shopkeeper enters the purchase order and receives it at the frontdoor24 to 48 hours later.
  • Bots and Chatbots: The digitization of order taking forces stores to have a technological resource that makes this process more efficient. The use of messaging platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger allow the implementation of automatic messaging tools that facilitate the management of order taking. Companies such as Yalochat in the United States and Latam, Table in the US and Peiky in Latin America create smart conversational bots and customer experience (UX) features with the customer depending on the type of business and the needs of the stores.
  • Digital payments: Today, in emerging markets, most transactions are made in cash, leaving aside customers who prefer to pay with cards or transfers. There are companies such as Sensepass in Israel, Dapp and Qiubo in Latin America and Mishipay in the United Kingdom that enable shopkeepers to receive any payment method through a physical terminal or application.
  • Store management: Like any business, stores need to keep track of their business such as inventory, promotions, sales, payroll, accounting, among others. Companies like Snapbizz in India and Almacén Gurú in Chile are in charge of digitizing the stores, facilitating their administrative operation.
  • On demand warehousing and micro-fulfillment centers: Sometimes the stores have available spaces that they can use as micro-warehouses on demand or for the installation of smart lockers that serve as a safeguard point for third party merchants’ products that customers collect in the establishment. This type of operation increases the entry channels and foot traffic for stores. Companies such as Cargamos in Mexico, Estoca in Brazil and LockerBox in Latin America provide these services to shopkeepers.
  • Embedded finance: Today all stores can be a bank correspondent through alliances with technology-based startups. Companies like Sonect enable stores to act as virtual ATMs; Klarna and Venio offer consumer financing solutions through the grocer and Fairbanc in Southeast Asia offers a working capital financing solution to stores.
  • Shopper insights: Having perspectives on consumer behavior and their purchasing preferences helps brands and stores to focus their efforts to offer promotions by increasing the purchase basket of users. Today there are companies such as Deep North in the United States, ciValue in Israel, Streetbees in the United Kingdom and DCanje in Chile that help process consumer behavior to generate attractive promotions and “Insights” that increase sales conversion.
  • Smart receipts: Just as there are tools that measure consumer behavior at the point of sale, there are some that analyze the behavior of sales through the digitization of purchase receipts. Companies like Tickendy in Europe carry out this digitization to provide valuable information to stores and brands.
  • Store automation: Another trend is to have fully automated, cashier-less and contactless payment-enabled stores. Amazon Go is the pioneer in this trend followed by companies such as Zippin, Accel Robotics, Grabango, Trigo, and Standard Cognition.

“It is a well-known fact that bringing in technologies in the retail sector is good for customers.” — N. R. Narayana Murthy (co-Founder of Infosys)

This sector has also attracted the attention of large corporations such as ABInBev who has invested and developed applications in this space, for example, MiMercado (online B2B order fulfillment), Pensa Systems (digital shelf audit); Semper em Casa, Ze delivery, Tiendasya (beverage delivery).

Without a doubt, the traditional channel continues to be the cornerstone of retail and the economic base of millions of families in emerging markets. Innovations in this sector represent changes that positively affect us all and an area of ​​opportunity for store and economic growth.

“People are always going to go shopping. A lot of our effort is just ‘how do we make the retail experience a great one?”, Phillip Green (Chairman of Arcadia Group)

Hector Shibata. Director of Investments & Portfolio at ACV a global Corporate Venture Capital (CVC) fund and Adjunct Professor for Entrepreneurial Finance.

Ricardo Latournerie. VC Investor at ACV.

ACV is an international Corporate Venture Capital (CVC) fund investing globally in Startups & VC funds.

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