December 31, 2003, 12:00 AM

Using the web to boost the convenience in c-stores

Faced with growing competition from other retailers selling items like soda, snacks and batteries at the checkout line, convenience stores are using the web to fight back and make their stores even more convenient to shop.

Convenience stores are finding that the convenience niche is not what it used to be. Retailers ranging from pet stores to office supply merchants are selling items like soda, snacks and batteries in the checkout line, forcing c-stores into new ways of luring and capturing customers.

One way c-stores have fought back is by using in-store web-based kiosks to expand products and services-a strategy Circle K Corp. uses with its in-store ZapLink kiosks. Now, with a redesigned web site, Circle K says it’s the first c-store chain to let consumers go online to check for specials at their local Circle K-or any of the more than 2,000 Circle K stores.

“With customers already using their ZapLink kiosks, it makes sense for Circle K to also increase connections with customers through its web site,” says Gene Gerke, a consultant to c-stores and president of retail consultants Gerke & Associates in Columbia, Mo. Both Gerke and the National Association of Convenience Stores say they are not aware of any other c-stores offering a similar service through a web site.

“We believe site visitors care most about specials, promotions and events that are happening at the one or two Circle K locations where they shop,” says Brad Beranek, Circle K’s web services director.

The web can be expected to continue playing a more important role in the c-store industry, the c-store association says. “More retailers are looking like c-stores at the counter, out to get the impulse and one-stop shopper,” an association spokesman says. “So it’s becoming harder and harder for c-stores to stay ahead of the competition.”

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