David is currently the Global Vice President Shell Retail Marketing, responsible for leading the strategic marketing direction for Shell’s branded Retail products, services and digital solutions in 43,000 service stations across more than 70 countries. A graduate of the London Business School, MBA and Insead, IDP, David has spent a number of years working across Asia, living in Japan for 4 years, North America and now resides in the UK with his family.
In this interview, David shares his insights on convenience retail and where he sees it heading.
1. The archetype of convenience stores is changing — both in appearance and in stock. How has shell reinvented itself over the years to match this trend?
We pride ourselves on being a business that is constantly re-inventing itself at every level to service our customers and society better. Needs change constantly and an example of this is how we have transformed ourselves from a traditional fuel supplier to a ‘mobility services’ provider. So now we have expanded convenience store offerings and are also actively introducing new mobility offerings, such as hydrogen and LNG stations.
Retail is evolving fast. For us this means we have renewed momentum to expand and diversify according to our customers’ needs. Now, more than ever it’s important we continue to develop better products and services that add value to our customers’ lives and businesses. Time is the ultimate luxury for today’s consumers. To meet this need, we have reimagined the traditional customer experience for a highly connected digital world. We constantly look for new ways to improve the retail experience and make it more efficient for our customers, from easy payment solutions to increased parking spaces and click-and-collect style services. This is all part of our drive to give customers back time in their lives to do the things they enjoy most.
2. Unlike before, today’s consumer is characterised by shorter and more frequent trips to the grocery store. How do you cater to these changing consumer patterns?
Urbanisation and time poverty are indeed major trends and with the largest convenience footprint in the world- of over 43,000 locations, we see ourselves as well positioned to meet our customers’ needs. Ultimately we want to find new ways to make people excited to shop at a Shell site. The ‘Shell Experience’ strives to make customers lives easier. Meeting customer needs means ensuring tailored services based on the type of customer that visits our sites – whether they’re after a fast refuel or a chance to grab a fresh-squeezed juice.
A big part of that is by providing high quality food and beverages either through our own Deli2Go brand or through developing strategic partnerships with companies like Starbucks or Waitrose in the UK.
There will always be people who want to come, refuel, and get back on the road as quickly as possible. But for a growing number of people, the ability to make a quick stop on the way home and grab a ready meal, maybe a bottle of wine, pick up click and collect packages or their dry cleaning while they refuel is a huge convenience. We work to make sure our sites are designed in a way that caters for both the ‘fill up and go’ and the shopper who wants more. We’re always trialling new innovations to bring these offers to life.
We also look for new ways to elevate food beyond what people expect from a petrol station. For example In Karachi there is a Shell station with a juice bar making freshly pressed ginger and kale drinks, in the Netherlands we have a site that makes made-to-order sandwiches while in China we offer bubble tea.
3. Have these changing requirements also impacted your approach to local and global marketing efforts?
The way we improve the experience for our customers is by really listening to them, the world they enjoy living in, and being responsive. Whilst our network is global, our sites are designed to be local – it’s critically important to recognise that the customer needs are locally defined but that doesn’t mean that there can’t be a good exchange of best practice. We have many examples of where local innovation in one country is taken up and tailored for another country very successfully – and it is this agile transfer of experience, test, fail fast & learn culture, that I believe is the core mission of global marketing organisations.
4. The latest technology to influence the retail landscape — especially in the context of convenience stores — is amazon go. Have you relied on data and technology to improve the in-store experience and stay ahead of competitors?
I believe over the next 10 years or so, Amazon Go type stores will become the norm. Stores are going to be transformed to become destinations where people can interact with the product in a really engaging way. This puts us in a challenging position because one of our key products is something people can’t interact with, have a perception it smells bad and frankly, for many, is a hassle to have to stop and purchase. Where we see a benefit though, is by using the data and technology available to us to make our overall experience one that differentiates us from our competitors.
Shell Retail manages a database of about four billion customer transactions, one of the most comprehensive in the world, which allows us to analyse what people do and when they do it. This gives us unique insight into customer behaviour, allowing us to spot trends and innovate to provide services to try and stay ahead of what our customers need. We are always looking for new innovations to bring into our sites to make the customer experience better. For example, we are piloting preordering schemes in Turkey, Holland and Thailand, where we’ve installed screens at the pumps that allow you to pick out your meal as you refuel. In 2015 Shell launched the first mobile fuel payment service. ‘Fill Up & Go’ is powered by PayPal and lets you pay for fuel from your car. We’re now almost two years on and we’ve taken the next step in our connected car journey, and it was a big one. I’m proud to say that earlier this month – in an industry first – we launched a new in-car cashless payment system. Owners of Jaguars and Land Rovers in the UK can now pay for fuel via their car’s touchscreen at Shell Stations, we’re calling it a ‘digital drive-thru’. It measures your driving performance and links to the Shell loyalty scheme. It even knows when you’ve arrived at a Shell station and will ensure your coffee, sandwich or croissant of choice is waiting for you. A truly connected solution.
5. Many retail chains are shifting away from the small store format, favouring larger department stores due to the operational costs involved. Do you see shell adhering to its existing format, or revising its approach?
Well, as I said earlier we don’t see a trend to larger formats, we do see a trend to more local convenience but certainly with a much larger offering that caters for multiple customer needs: food for now, food for later, broader mobility services. We are evaluating a number of new format options to strengthen the customer experience and have the benefit of many local innovations to pull on. That said our sites are designed to meet the needs of customers in a particular location, so what they offer and their layout will always be location dependent. With 43,000 retail outlets globally, our focus is on meeting our local customers’ needs. The customer is genuinely at the heart of all of our business decisions.
This means that given what country you’re in, you can visit a Shell Station and get a vastly different offer but hopefully always an excellence customer experience. For example, at two landmark, luxury stations in Thailand customers get a highly personalised service. Firstly the stations only offer our premium fuel, Shell V-Power and each car gets two attendants: one to fill up their car, the other to take their coffee and food order. This highly personalised service comes at no extra cost to the customer. We are likely to start seeing more of this model in future.
What I can also envision is an increase of co-located offerings with our partners. This will allow people to do even more when they visit us, something that will be particularly attractive on sites that provide electric charging, which takes longer than filling up your car with petrol.
We are about to launch a number of fast-charging corridors at forecourts in Europe and major markets in the East. With this we have a major opportunity to offer differentiated services that really add value, whilst people wait for their car to charge. Offering highspeed wi-fi, dry cleaning services, quality food and drink options in a welcoming, comfortable environment these are just some of the answers. It’s an exciting time for this industry and for Shell.
6. How important is shell’s salience as a retail operator in its wider business operations and strategy?
Retail is the face of the Shell brand and we have a responsibility to play a leading role in the energy transformation- and delivering on Shell’s purpose to provide more cleaner energy solutions. Feel a great responsibility to ensure the continued relevance and strength of the Shell brand is delivered through our Retail business, safely and profitably, during this incredibly important period of energy transition. So on many levels, as the custodian of the Shell brand, a responsible employer and partner to millions of associated businesses, and a very significant and growing cash generator for the Shell group, we in Retail play a critical role in the wider Shell strategy.