7-Eleven outlets made over to shake up convenience-store arena

7-Eleven is introducing seating areas and creating an entirely new range of fresh-chilled, ready-to-eat meals that are brought to the store daily. PHOTO: 7-ELEVEN

SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) - Your neighbourhood 7-Eleven store will be getting a makeover. For starters, it could be up to 1.3 times larger than existing stores - about 800 sq ft, or nearly the size of a badminton court.

It is where you could pick up a freshly-prepared meal, take a seat or even meet friends.

These are among the ways the country's largest convenience store chain is keeping up with disruption - by being a disruptor itself - even as the incumbent in a traditional, now-ubiquitous business.

Steven Lye, chief operating officer for 7-Eleven Singapore, made no bones about this in a recent interview with The Business Times.

The chain intends to do this by emulating aspects of the Japanese convenience stores, which are known to be "top notch", by stocking premium products, introducing seating areas, and creating an entirely new range of fresh-chilled, ready-to-eat meals delivered to the store daily. This is quite a step-up from 7-Eleven as a pitstop everyone knows for only basic, everyday items.

It got its name in 1946, from its stores staying open daily between 7am and 11pm. Its move to stay open 24 hours started in 1963.

In Singapore, the chain is run by the Dairy Farm Group, and now has a network of more than 430 outlets.

Mr Lye said: "We want to convey the message that we are no longer just a place for small needs. We want to be at the top of our customers' minds."

7-Eleven's 7-Connect Lockers, a collection station for parcels from online shopping activities. PHOTO: 7-ELEVEN

Besides fresh-chilled, ready-to-eat meals, 7-Eleven Singapore's expanded, elevated range of products include lifestyle products and even IT gadgets. It has also added 7-Connect lockers, self-collection stations where parcels from online shopping can be picked up, and cash-withdrawal machines hosted by the major banks.

In July, 7-Eleven invested S$350,000 in a branding campaign with the tagline "There's Always 7-Eleven", seeking to shift customer perception of its outlets from that of a stop for basic needs to a one-stop shop for groceries, toiletries, bill payment, cash withdrawals and more.

Mr Lye said: "In order to accommodate the extensive additions, future 7-Eleven stores will have an area of about 800 sq ft where possible."

He added that the items sold at each store will depend on its location. Those in tourist haunts such as Orchard Road and Marina Bay will stock backpacks, suitcases and souvenirs; its Marine Parade outlet near the East Coast Park will sell kites.

Tech developments are also in the pipeline, said Mr Lye. One is a loyalty app named 7-Rewards, due to roll out next year; through this, regular customers can redeem free gifts or buy products at discounts after they have run up a certain level of spending.

Another new tech service is the 7-Connect Kiosk, a self-help machine for quicker bill payments; 7-Eleven counters will also accept wave-payment methods such as Apple Pay, Android Pay and Visa Paywave.

Mr Lye said the company has opted for an "invigorating direction" by refreshing the aesthetics of its existing stores; the larger outlets will also have enough space for seating areas for customers to enjoy their purchases on the spot.

"As a brand, we understand the importance of keeping up with the times and constantly evaluating the needs of customers. Hence, we have made a conscious effort to innovate."

7-Eleven chief executive officer David Goh shows two ready-to-eat meals that will be introduced to slowly phase out frozen meals being sold at stores. PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

He is particularly excited about the new range of fresh-chilled, ready-to-eat meals. These are prepped and delivered upon order to ensure freshness, and will replace the current range of frozen-thaw meals by the first quarter of 2017.

He said: "The tech behind the new fresh-chilled meals is a strong value proposition that we are introducing to the market. Over the past 18 months, we have embarked on a strategy to take these ready-to-eat meals to a whole new level."

The meals are said to utilise superior ingredients and authentic flavours, and have a shelf life of two days, compared to five days for the current frozen-thaw range in stores.

The fresh-chilled meals come in clear packaging so that their quality and freshness can be seen.

Current flavours include Hainanese chicken rice, braised duck rice, butter chicken biryani as well as three flavours of premium Japanese pastas. Mr Lye said that come 2017, 7-Eleven Singapore customers can expect over 40 different flavours.

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