Loop Neighborhood Takes a Smart Approach to Convenience
Loop Neighborhood partners with AiFi to pilot its first autonomous gas station store.
Loop Neighborhood redefined the convenience store experience seven years ago by offering better-for-you items at its well-kept locations in northern California. Today, the company is combining its best practice of investing in technology with its mission to move the c-store industry forward with the debut of the world’s first autonomous gas station store: a Loop Neighborhood store in California’s Silicon Valley.
AiFi, the Santa Clara, Calif.-based technology company that makes retail stores autonomous, is bringing its “NanoStore” format to the Campbell, Calif.-based Loop Neighborhood store, which is adjacent to a Shell Gas Station. The cashier-less Loop pilot location, which opened in January, is accessible 24 hours a day, seven days a week and carries 150 SKUs. It is designed to provide fast walk-in/walk-out customer experiences with instant receipts on exit.
“The new autonomous Loop Neighborhood store is a wonderful step forward for our store brand,” President Varish Goyal says. “We strive to deliver a satisfying, enjoyable and convenient experience to our customers every time they enter one of our stores, and the AiFi Autonomous Store Platform meets the needs and demands of our customers.”
Rather than providing traditional convenience store snacks, the autonomous Loop Neighborhood store offers a wider selection of healthier options with an emphasis on fresh products. Loop Neighborhood made a name for itself in the industry by changing the offering inside the stores.
“We introduced the customer to better-for-you items, lower-calorie items and unique items that you wouldn’t find in a typical convenience store,” Goyal says. “Furthermore, we pride ourselves on having clean stores which shout ‘fresh food.’ This means we have white subway tiles, clean restrooms, windows that are open to see inside versus having marketing elements all over them. Now, we are also exploring cashier-less stores.”
AiFi and Loop plan to open more gas station NanoStores in the coming months, as well as deploy the AiFi Autonomous Store Platform to Loop’s existing 30-plus neighborhood convenience stores.
Rooted in Service
Goyal’s family has been operating convenience stores since 1978. In 2010, Goyal became the president of Fremont, Calif.-based Au Energy, a joint venture between his family’s Vintners Distributors and Shell Oil.
“Our family is hands-on in the business and we spend time visiting sites daily to understand what our team members go through, what our customers’ needs are, and what’s working and not working,” Goyal notes. “These findings are discussed with all department heads so we collaborate for an aligned solution.”
Armed with decades of experience in the industry and Goyal’s perspective on changing consumer demands, Au Energy opened the first Loop store in 2013. “We were on the road to creating a brand and we knew we had to redefine the convenience store,” Goyal says. “We had to really define who our customer was and was going to be, what were the needs of our neighborhoods and communities, and what we would stand for in the future.”
At a time when most convenience stores targeted the male audience with their product offerings, Loop was created with females and millennial customers in mind, Goyal says. “We, of course, are here for the community and hope that we have some for everyone,” he adds. “With that said, we are targeting females, and generations Y and Z.”
The modern interior and exterior design of the Loop stores also played a role in transforming consumer perception of convenience stores. When customers approach a Loop, they are able to see right into the store from the pump. “We have a clear line of sight inside the store by ensuring that our gondolas are not tall, obstructing views of the product or consumer,” Goyal explains. “We have white gondolas and white subway tiles that shout cleanliness and a place that customers can trust the food safety.”
Loop’s layouts feature a sales counter in the center of the store rather than in the corner like many traditional convenience stores. “This allows our staff to help a customer in any direction and allows them to engage with our staff, if needed,” Goyal says.
Goyal describes the product mix in Loop stores as a cross between Whole Foods and a convenience store. Loop sells a variety of waters and drinks, including kombucha and chia drinks, kale chips, nuts and other healthy snack items. It features espresso machines, salad bars and frozen yogurt.
“We take pride in supporting active and healthy lifestyles by carrying organic, natural and gluten-free products,” Goyal says. “We’ve added salad bars, espresso and frozen yogurt to ensure our customers have a place to go during breakfast, lunch or dinner. We encourage people to hang out with Wi-Fi and bar-style seating if you want to enjoy your lunch or simply stop in to get some work done while on the road.”
To reward customer loyalty, the Loop rewards program gives customers four points towards the purchase of food or beverages for every dollar they spend inside the store and two points for every gallon of gas outside. Members are also treated to exclusive deals that non-Loop members can’t take advantage of, including free product based on frequency of purchase.
“The proof is in the experience,” Goyal says. “It’s clear that Loop puts more care into everything inside the store, from higher-quality, better-for-you products on the shelf to our friendly and innovative customer service experience.”
Moving forward, Loop Neighborhood will continue to evolve its offerings and service to fit into its customers’ busy lifestyles. “Loop exists to enhance communities in and around the convenience store experience,” Goyal says.