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MAPCO: Creating
the Convenience
Store of the

Clean, healthy and relaxing are not the adjectives we use most often to describe convenience stores. But why not?

There’s no rule that a stop for fuel and snacks must be a dreary, dimly lit, potato-chip-filled affair.

That’s certainly not what customers demand. But, ideally, what would they want?

MAPCO, a convenience and gas station chain with more than 300 locations across the southern United States, asked EPAM Continuum to get inside the heads of its customers, so it could create the “Store of the Future.”

Acquired by Copec, a global company based in Chile, in 2016, MAPCO represented an opportunity to not only better understand American markets but also to learn about the distinctions among regional markets. MAPCO stores are concentrated in Tennessee and surrounding states, in both cities and small towns — a totally different market than, say, a highway rest stop in the U.S. Northeast or a mini-market near Bogota.

Here’s how we did it. 

Informed by a fresh vision of the future and its “Better Break” strategy, MAPCO began rolling out its reimagined stores in 2021 to high praise from guests, employees and the community.

Defining the Challenge

We quickly learned that across industries, consumers have higher expectations than ever before. Technology has made all of us more selective about what convenience means. And high-end retailers have further elevated the bar by making in-person shopping an Instagram-able, sensory experience meant to surprise and delight.

But convenience stores are uniquely stuck in the past, with consumer expectations running flat.

Using our human-centered design approach, EPAM Continuum sought to understand various customer personas and what they want —and don’t want— from a convenience store stop.

Meeting the Customer

Using shop-alongs, in-depth interviews and live in-store traffic monitoring, our strategists and designers met customers where they are (literally and figuratively). We use a variety of research methods because sometimes customers can easily articulate what they want and other times actions and behaviors speak louder than words.

Some of our key insights revealed that customers want:

A healthier me
A majority of interview participants expressed the desire to become better, healthier versions of themselves. The desire to eat well and exercise ranked highly on their list of priorities, even if they often felt they didn’t have the time and energy to realistically adopt these healthier behaviors. They wanted food and snack options that are healthier— but just as quick, convenient and reasonably priced as their “fast-food” counterparts.
A chance to recharge
We found that MAPCO’s target audience was often in search of a moment of peace when they stopped —a place away from home, work or other obligations where they could take a moment to relax and recharge. People described the need for short, “healthy” breaks, where they could stretch their legs, get a nutritious snack and rest for a moment.
A convenient but human experience
One of the highest priorities and values for customers is convenience, especially when it comes to the check-out experience. In the interview process, customers shared that they wanted a seamless, ultra-fast experience in store; however, they didn’t want to lose the human interaction and organic conversations that happen when an employee is assisting them in the checkout process.

Forecasting the Future of Convenience

In addition to customer research, we also took a tour of cutting-edge options in the food, hospitality and retail space to better understand how some of the newest innovations are working. From robotic kitchens to indoor farming startups and grab-and-go checkout models, understanding industry shifts enables the formulation of big ideas and concepts.

Informed by our global reach, we considered the big picture in retail with intel from NXT, EPAM Continuum’s trends research group. For example, since health was a constant theme, we discussed what we call the trend toward “a (slightly) better me.” That is, with so many people becoming more health-conscious, it’s important to understand the variations in what that means. Many people just want choices to allow them to proceed at their own pace in their health journey. So, maybe they’re not giving up potato chips entirely, but they appreciate having the option to sometimes grab apple slices or a fresh salad instead.

By distilling our consumer and expert interviews, trend reports and inspirational audits, the EPAM Continuum team was able to forecast an ideal future state, which involved a total reimagination of the form and function of a gas and convenience store. We considered every aspect of the experience:

To enable MAPCO to move towards this ideal future state, we leveraged our backcasting model to help identify mid-term and near-term milestones.

By targeting and achieving incremental changes to its business, MAPCO can appropriately adjust its operations and acclimate its employees and customers accordingly, without losing sight of transformative and ambitious long-term goals.

Making it Real

Taking the insights gained from the testing phase, MAPCO started unveiling its reimagined stores in 2021. The award-winning “Store of the Future” design features an open floor plan and refreshed layout, including large windows and tall ceilings for an abundance of natural light; expanded restrooms with clean, modern interiors; affordable high-quality foods; indoor and outdoor seating; and free Wi-Fi, inviting guests to stay, relax and recharge.

Keeping with customer feedback on the importance of a seamless checkout experience, the MAPCO app was launched. The app not only offers an additional point of contact for guests, but also enables touchless pay at the pump and in store by securely adding preferred payment methods and makes it easy to access and redeem rewards.

Testing Out Ideas

To test the resonance of various ideas and concepts for the convenience store of the future, the EPAM Continuum and MAPCO teams built a full-scale store mock-up. ​Designed to simulate various touchpoints and experiences within the store, the mock-up allowed test participants to walk through this open, light and airy “store” as if they were customers.

For example, they tried shopping for traditional snacks alongside colorful packaged salads and fresh produce.


They used various digital elements, like a convenient screen ordering system to select a coffee or other beverages while pumping gas. Our trial "customers" appreciated the added convenience.

Choosing Healthier Options

They watched as a chef cooked a made-to-order entrée, such as a stir-fry. Our research shows that customers value healthier meal and snack options.

Wasting No Time

They paid with ease, via a smart scanning self-checkout, a smart phone app or a roving employee with an iPad. Everyone is busy. A quicker payment process gives customers time back in their day.

Taking a Moment

They relaxed in a simulated outdoor space with abundant greenery, recreation equipment, TV screens tuned to sports and food trucks. Elevating convenience means a seamless, frictionless experience that gives customers a chance to relax and recharge.

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Expanding the Future

With the success of its new store design, enhanced offerings and deeper community engagement, MAPCO is set to continue opening new stores following this model and delivering on its promise of a “Better Break.”

We are proud to support MAPCO as it continues building on its vision for the “Store of the Future” and experimenting with innovative ways to improve guests’ and employees’ lives.

Learn more about how we can help you reimagine the future here