From Big Gulps to Big Data: How 7-Eleven Is Driving Digital Innovation

As the world’s first convenience store, 7‑Eleven continues to find innovative ways to cater to a new generation of digitally-savvy shoppers. As technology evolves, the company has a vested interest in ensuring it stays two steps ahead of its customer’s needs.

Ghadeer Redler October 08, 2019
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Some of my fondest memories of growing up in San Francisco are the sunny afternoons I’d spend at Golden Gate Park feeding ducks, playing frisbee, and picking flowers. On many occasions, those days also included a pit-stop at 7-Eleven for a Slurpee on my bike ride back home. 

Alongside the Slurpee, 7-Eleven has created a wide range of renowned consumer products (cue the Big Gulp) over the last 40 years. However, one area of product development that 7-Eleven may not be as widely known for is in technology. From the company’s beginning as the world’s first convenience store, 7‑Eleven continues its pursuit of finding innovative ways to cater to a new generation of digitally-savvy shoppers. As technology evolves, the company has a vested interest in making sure it stays two steps ahead of their customer’s needs. But, how is 7-Eleven making this possible?

I chatted with Christine Davall, head of HR performance, people, and communications at 7-Eleven Australia about how the company is digitally transforming its business from the inside out to remain an industry trailblazer.

How does 7-Eleven stay innovative?

Our head of strategy, innovation, and business development in Australia, Stephen Eyears, always says that there’s a degree of inertia and inability to recognize the opportunities that exist from emerging technology across the industry. 

Stephen and his team are constantly experimenting in order to stay innovative at 7-Eleven. It’s not something we make a lot of noise about, but it has become part of our culture. We deliberately make sure we have a balance of investments which include high risk and high reward. He believes that not everything should be a safe bet, because we won’t uncover the real competitive advantages until we try something different. We have a big focus on food and how we evolve our offer in terms of breadth, healthy options, and sustainability. 

“We’re extremely focused on building our people capability and enhancing the employee experience.”—Christine Davall, 7-Eleven

The team is also investing in digital capabilities that will lay the foundation for the next 10 years. What we have on our roadmap will provide some distinct competitive advantages, but it takes a little bit of time, a whole lot of clever people, and significant investments to bring them to market. We can’t wait to show what we’re doing next.

What drove the need for 7-Eleven’s transformation?

7-Eleven has been a very successful business over the last 40 years, and we remain an industry leader in the convenience store and retail space. But, it was a 40-year-old business with 40-year-old processes. Everything was manual and paper-based. In order to continue leading the convenience space and reach our goal of a billion customer transactions by 2030, we really needed a different way to manage and engage our people. 

We had a bigger need than to just transform HR. We were transforming the business, and HR was a key player in that. That’s why we chose to partner with Workday. Workday is not just an HR system, it’s a business system with one source of truth. That source of truth powers data that can be leveraged across other areas—such as our customer and operational databases—within the business.

When I joined the company two years ago, it was a distant aspiration to have people technology as part of the business equation. There were some rudimentary HR calendar activities going on, but there wasn’t an articulated people strategy, and HR was not partnering with the business in that way. When I joined, Sharon Beaumont, the head of HR, said to me, “We need to partner with the business to drive people-based activities because people are so important to our success.” From that moment on, those value-add activities took the front seat, including how we attract talent, how we develop our employees, and how we make sure they’re engaged and performing to the best of their ability.

How are you doing that?

Particularly in the stores, we had been experiencing really high employee turnover. We’ve been diligently working on that and have reduced attrition over the last two years. Previously, our staffing was reactive and was solely focused on putting someone into a store and filling a shift. We’ve shifted our strategy to be more proactive. We’re now constantly thinking about things like: Do we have people with the right skills that this particular store needs? Are our employees engaged? Are we looking at our employees for the long term rather than just expecting them to leave? 

This shift in mindset also forced us to create a new people strategy and launch a culture program that promotes the values that underpin our business. The next piece of the puzzle that we’re working on now is how to embed that culture into all of our business processes and decision making. 

We’re also extremely focused on building our people capability and enhancing the employee experience. We’re doing innovative things in the digital space for our customers, and we want that same experience for employees as well. We don’t want our employees to fill out a paper form or manual spreadsheet, we want them to experience digital change in the tools that they use from onboarding to training to development. We believe that if we create a good experience, they’ll stay with the company longer than if it was a more rudimentary experience.

What are 7-Eleven’s top initiatives for its workforce over the next few years?

We’ve spent the last 12 months building our culture and will focus the next 12 months around how we hardwire that culture into our business processes. When we designed our Workday business processes, we kept our core values in mind and made sure that those values were embedded into it. For example, one of our values is “do the right thing,” so the processes we created had to empower our people to do exactly that. 

Currently, there’s no gender pay gap at 7-Eleven, and we’re continuing to do great things in that space. But, there are value-add pieces that we want to invest our attention in a bit more, such as employee wellness. And when I talk about wellness, I mean looking at the whole person and how we engage and maximize their opportunities and experiences across the gamut. 

Going forward, I think we’ve got to do a lot more work around culture and making sure our people understand what it means. We also need to find new ways to attract people to join 7-Eleven. We want people to be excited about working at 7-Eleven because they’ll get to work with great products and systems in an environment where they’re going to be nurtured and have a really rewarding experience.

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