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FOOD & BEVERAGE, RETAIL | Kiersnerr Gerwin Tacadena, Singapore
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Cheers, 7-Eleven add premium meals and self service tech in larger stores to take on hawker outlets

And checkout how they adopt Japanese ready meals mix trend.

Self service checkouts are something people are only used to seeing in supermarkets, but now Singapore’s convenience stores are also trialling similar technology to cope with the debilitating manpower crunch.

The two biggest convenience store chains in Singapore recently launched new technologies to compensate for their staffing needs and increase productivity.

7-Eleven Singapore, which has 438 stores island-wide and processes 9 million transactions monthly, is in the midst of launching 7-Connect Kiosk, a self-help machine for quicker and more efficient bill payment. They also employed tap-and-go payment such as PayWave to reduce cash transactions.

7-Eleven is ramping up self-service tech such as 7-Connect Kiosks.

“Understaffing is a constant issue within any retail industry. We are in the process of implementing pertinent services such as a self-service check out kiosk and bill payment kiosks,” 7-Eleven Singapore chief operating officer Steven Lye says.

Lye shares that 7-Eleven is in the process of retrofitting its stores to be more contemporary, and new outlets will include seating areas and parcel collection points. Putting seating areas and tables inside convenience stores is popular in countries like the Philippines where more food is served up, but relatively new to Singapore.

As a result of the new designs, future 7-Eleven stores will need a footprint of at least 800 sq ft. This could mean that smaller hole in the wall convenience stores will be under pressure.

These moves were no different for 7-Eleven’s rival, Cheers. The store chain’s general manager Victor Cheong has opted for the iCash System to streamline the company’s 3 million monthly transactions. iCash involves the customer putting cash into a machine and the machine then dispenses change, meaning the cashier never has to touch the money.

“This takes the burden of handling cash away from staff, increases accuracy in accepting and dispensing change, which in turn improves customer satisfaction,” Cheong stresses, “The system also eliminates the need for staff to manually count cash at the end of each shift, thereby saving up to 30 minutes each day.”

This technology is installed in 25 of their 152 outlets island wide. Cheers also deployed NETs self-service kiosks that provide convenience to consumers with a wide range of financial services such as bill payments and top‐ups.

 With 154 convenience stores all across Singapore, shoppers can be sure to find a treat that adds more to their life anytime of the day.

“Through innovation and automation, service staff are able to lighten their load while focusing on more value-added work such customer service. These allows us to enhance the convenience store experience for customers without taxing manpower staff, closing the manpower shortage gap,” Cheong explains.

But there may also be a limit to technology in convenience stores, with complete self service checkout solutions like those at supermarkets harder to implement, argues Euromonitor International research manager Adhitya Nugroho. “Although self-serving counters are becoming more visible in supermarkets/hypermarkets in Singapore, convenience stores have its own challenges to implementing such technology,” he states.

Euromonitor International research manager Adhitya Nugroho

Cheers has also been busy revamping its service station concept, which started with Esso 14 years ago. Its FairPrice Xpress and Cheers stores at Esso service stations have partnered TCGC Pte Ltd, a consortium of local brands, to provide a new line of ready-to-eat meals that are of good quality and value. “We will be looking to also bring this new range of ready-to-eat meals to the rest of our stand alone convenience stores,” Cheong says.

Ready, Set, Eat: Convenience stores turning their menus Japanese 

But it’s in food where the two biggest convenience store chains in Singapore are really changing their offering. With their respective taglines, “Adds more to life,” at Cheers and “There’s always 7-Eleven,” only one thing was running in their minds: How can they attract people who are always on the go?

As it turned out, the answer was easy. Euromonitor International’s Nugroho points out that convenience stores in Singapore are following the footsteps of other countries especially Japan, where ready meals mix have gained traction.

“Due to higher volume of ready meals sales, the players are able to price its offering to be more competitive with other food service providers such as fast foods and hawker centres as an alternative place to buy food and beverages, particularly in the wee hours,” Nugroho explains.

Although the two convenience store chains are already offering some ready-to-eat meals, it was only recently when they adopted Japan’s ready meals mix trend.

Lye shares that his local team is closely working with 7-Eleven’s Japan arm to develop ready-to-eat meals. They launched this line just last month.

“They are the best team to advise us on the transition as they have been bringing quality pre-packaged meals to their customers for many years,” Lye says, stressing that the new trend will form a significant portion of their total store sales.

Singapore’s largest convenience store chain launches new positioning and business direction to capture larger and more diverse customer following.

Currently, their 438 outlets offer a myriad of ready-to-eat meals in local flavours such as Hainanese Chicken Rice, Braised Duck Rice, Butter Chicken Biryani, and Carrot Cake.

“We also have a premium range of Japanese pastas – Spaghetti Al Funghi with Mentaiko, Spaghetti Neapolitan, and Vegetarian Spaghetti. For dessert, we also have a Chocolate Lava Cake which has proven to be very popular. Other items include fresh chilled sandwiches and Japanese onigiri,” Lye mentions.

It is not so different with Cheers, which has partnered with TCGC Pte. Ltd. in November this year to provide consumers with convenient and ready-to-eat meals. With the partnership, Cheers is able to offer ready-to-eat meals from The Common Good Company, The Soup Spoon, Udders, PastaMania, and &Will to its 154 outlets across the city-state.

Cheong notes that Cheers is utilising the vacuum skin packaging technology, which ensures preserved flavour and colour, keeps portions fresh and unmixed on the tray, and extends shelf life with no compromise on nutrition.

Cheers revamped convenience stores has transformed into a lifestyle destination with quality and affordable ready-to-eat meals, snacks and courier services all in one convenient location.

“The offerings serve to change mindsets of RTE meals in the industry as an alternative quality meal occasion, through tapping on state-of-the-art technology and innovation,” he stresses.

As the concept of ready-to-eat meals gains popularity in the city-state, Nugroho suggests that the two convenience stores could also tap into offering freshly brewed coffee, as Singapore consumes one of the highest total volumes per capita for coffee in Asia. 7-Eleven currently has 7-cuppa machines in its outlets, which offers a cup of coffee for $1.90.

“Convenience stores in Singapore could tap into this exciting area by offering value for money freshly brewed coffee in the stores. Freshly brewed coffee is quite a common offering in other developed countries such as Taiwan, South Korea, Japan,” he suggests.  

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