Slurpees in February only scratch the surface of 7-Eleven’s presence in Vancouver
We tested out the retail juggernaut’s new mobile checkout feature and learned more about its reasoning for a Vancouver home base along the way.
In the name of good journalism, I went to buy a Slurpee. I recently heard that 7-Eleven had launched mobile checkout, and I wanted to see what the fuss was about. February had started off mild—I may even dare to say warm—and the lack of chill in the air made me dream of summer. So, what better time to test out how my childhood baseball practice aprés drink would taste if I didn’t even need to engage with a cashier? Young James’ sweet tooth meets adult James’ social anxiety.
I downloaded the 7-Eleven app and made my way to a local store. Once inside, I poured my Slurpee (Pepsi - Ed note: We do not in any way endorse James’ choice here) and opened the app. Selecting “mobile checkout” brought up a barcode scanner and I rotated my Slurpee cup to scan it. Selecting “checkout” quickly communicated with my Apple Pay and I was ready to go. I had my sights set on the door when a notification urged me to verify my purchase on the way out. A QR scanner encased in an LED orb took a look at my phone to confirm my purchase. The orb turned green as if I had just won a contest on a game show. The cashier never even batted an eyelash.
I guess I could have left my ski mask at home and not dove into a speeding getaway van. Ah well, next time…
…And there almost certainly will be a next time, since it was so simple to use. My wife asked for a situation report of my odyssey and I texted back that the experience was like Superstore’s self-checkout, only if you could just keep everything in your shopping bag. This is exactly what 7-Eleven had in mind. “I think everyone's getting into self-checkout mode, right?” was the rhetorical question Norman Hower, the vice president and general manager of 7-Eleven Canada, asked me over Zoom.
Hower further explained that his company had been looking into the tech since 2018 and soft-launched mobile checkout in the U.S. that same year. Manhattan was the chosen city to experiment with. 21st Century New York, New York seems a far cry from 7-Eleven’s birth as Tote'm Stores in 1920s Dallas, Texas. But the company has expanded at a breakneck pace from those humble Texas roots. Vancouver is actually the Canadian home base for 7-Eleven, a country and region that exemplifies the company’s rise.
So, why Vancouver for a Canadian backyard? Aside, of course, from the fact that a mid-February Slurpee won’t do irreversible damage to one’s core body temperature. Hower shared that the majority of Canadian growth for 7-Eleven has been in BC and Alberta, as 70 percent of the 630 Canadian locations are spread across the two provinces. “It makes sense, just logistically to have us here, and that's where we intend to continue to grow our store count,” Hower says.
After previous stints in both Surrey and Burnaby, the 7-Eleven Canada team seems set on Vancouver for the long-term. You can only offer your friends pizza and beer so many times, and rent so many UHauls, I suppose. Plus, Hower mentioned that his team is well-tenured. A lot of the 54 person strong team (according to LinkedIn) working in 7-Eleven’s B.C. HQ, he shared, are 10, 20, or even 30 years in.
Those folks are also busy. Hower noted that some support comes from the main HQ in Texas, but the 7-Eleven Canada team specifically supports merchandising, marketing and communications, and a large chunk of the company’s digital activities. A lot of multinationals have Canadian offices in Toronto, Calgary, or Montreal, Hower concedes. But he views 7-Eleven Canada’s west coast bias as a plus. “I think it's unique that we're based here. It shows our commitment to growing in the west, and we're going to continue to invest in the west.”
Speaking of local investment, Hower shared that Vancouverites and Richmonders have invested the most of their disposable income into the mobile checkout feature across the province. The option to mobile checkout launched in November and is available in all stores province-wide. Most are small purchases like mine—a Slurpee or a chocolate bar—albeit purchased more efficiently and with more pizzazz. A testament to technology found where you, perhaps, least expect it. If you can find love in a hopeless place, why shouldn’t you find innovation in a convenience store?
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