Convenience Store News rewards Kum & Go as technology leader of the year

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DES MOINES, Iowa – The proximity channel has been accused of being slow to innovate and adopt new technologies. Often, convenience store retailers take a wait-and-see approach and follow the directions of their competition – quick service restaurants and Amazon Go, to name a few.

However, not all convenience store operators are shy about technology. Kum & Go LC is part of this group, and it is the commitment of the Des Moines-based retailer to its customers and associates reinforced by technology that particularly sets the company apart, earning it the Convenience store news Technology 2021 Leader of the year award.

“We have a real commitment to using technology as a catalyst to improve the efficiency of our stores and to enable our customers to enter with better access,” said Levon Hooks, Chief Information Officer (CIO) of Kum & Go, who accepted the award on behalf of the company at CSNews’ 2021 Tech Leadership Dinner and Roundtable, October 5, Chicago.

“If you’ve been to our stores in the past 12-18 months with COVID, we’ve looked for opportunities to have a more contactless environment,” Hooks noted. “It’s our commitment not only to our in-store associates, but also to our customers to drive excellence through technology. ”

When it comes to innovation, Kum & Go is always on the lookout for opportunities to gain efficiency and improve or increase customer engagement and experience, according to Hooks, who joined Kum & Go in August 2020 and was attracted to by the organization through its collaborative culture. .

“As we look at innovative technologies and how we can use them to improve experiences within our organization, this is the driving force behind our long-term strategy,” he explained.

While some retailers draw inspiration from outside forces, Kum & Go seeks inspiration for innovation internally. As Hooks noted, the company combines its drivers of success with innovations that will help Kum & Go execute its strategies in the short and long term.

“I don’t think we’re necessarily looking at an industry, like a big box, to drive our thinking process. It’s more in-house,” he said. “For example, we are revamping our food program. With that, we will need to engage our customers in a different way with our new food model. We are now looking at how we can use technology to enable this engagement.”

Currently, Kum & Go is piloting the new food model in stores in Omaha, Neb., Little Rock, Ark., As well as in his hometown. By the middle of next year, she hopes to have 100 stores with the program in place, as well as significant technological support to ensure success.

Solutions for employees

Recent technology initiatives launched by Kum & Go include employee-centric platforms including Branch, a mobile app planning tool, and Crew, a digital communications platform. Both received high marks from the chain’s associates.

“There has been a fantastic response to these programs because they allow better communication. This is an example of our ability to use technology to increase our communication across our store ecosystem and ensure consistency in the communication channels used, ”said Hooks. .

With these tools in place, there is no limit to the amount of communication that can be disseminated very quickly throughout the organization, the CIO noted, adding that while Branch and Crew are his most recent solutions, Kum & Go continues to evaluate other programs.

In the hands of customers

As for improving the customer experience, the company rolled out a mobile app this spring, with several improvements to come. Thanks to the app, customers can order curbside and see Kum & Go products available in store. They will also be able to order items from its new made-to-order food program through the app.

“You have access to our products, not only the food, but also the items in store. [You] make a selection and move through the ordering process very quickly, ”said Hooks.

The mobile fuel payment is another example of Kum & Go’s ability to innovate around the customer experience and to offer innovations to its customers within very short deadlines.

“When you think of COVID – or you’re in a cold climate region like us – the option to pay for your phone’s fuel and all you have to do is go out and pump it up, it’s more convenient. for our customers and that is what we seek to offer, ”he underlined. “We have received very positive feedback on the app. Our customers appreciate the convenience. It creates greater efficiency for our in-store associates. Everything went very well.”

Looking forward

As evidenced by already planned future improvements to its mobile app, Kum & Go isn’t about to slow down when it comes to shaking the tech needle.

Going forward, on-the-go tech similar to Amazon Go’s “just walk out” frictionless platform is something to watch out for, according to Hooks. Customers would use a mobile app to enter the store, shop and pay for items from their phones, skipping the line and speeding up the journey. This is something Hooks is excited to see coming to the channel.

“This allows us to continue delivering efficiencies to our in-store associates, as well as creating a meaningful customer experience in terms of being able to come in quickly and come back, because everyone is in this time of crisis,” he explained. . “And when you start talking about environmental things with COVID, [there’s] the ability to come in and get your products and not necessarily have human intervention to do it. ”

Kum & Go also uses the data, according to the technical manager. “Kum & Go has become a much more data-driven organization; how we deliver data to our user base to provide a better understanding of the decisions we make across the organization, ”he said.

Data, along with its mobile app and new food program, is at the top of the retailer’s to-do list.

“These are at the top of our initial technology program, as well as anything we can do at the fuel dispenser to provide greater convenience to our customers. We’re looking at a few different technologies… that will allow you to – whether you’re using the app or potentially the distributor – place an order for in-store items for curbside pickup, ”Hooks shared.

Kum & Go sees technology as a revenue generator as opposed to a cost center.

“It gives us great flexibility to link the technology to our business strategy, instead of just keeping the lights on,” he said. “We see technology as the way we can grow our organization. As a technologist, it’s really exciting; knowing that you have a seat at the table and that you are creating value for the organization, instead of being in a supporting role. “

With tech-savvy people in leadership positions, Kum & Go’s technological curiosity continues to grow.

“We are looking to use technology to differentiate ourselves in our industry,” Hooks said. “Enabling technology is an important part of what we do in the future.”

This includes technology playing a key role as Kum & Go expands its footprint. With stores planned in Grand Rapids, Mich., And Salt Lake City, the retailer will use the technology to reach customers in these new markets.

“It’s really exciting to be in an organization that values ​​technology and continues to grow,” said Hooks. “All of this work is really driven by a great technology organization, and people in our organization are working tirelessly to come up with some really innovative ideas to ensure our success as well.

“While we provide strategic direction from a leadership perspective, we have a ton of collaboration [between] our business partners and our technology organization which are behind the success we have experienced so far, ”he added.


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