Marketing

7-Eleven’s innovation team just compared its convenience-store chain to Uber

Above: Michael Debnar, right, the leader of 7-Eleven’s Innovation Team and founder at 7-Ventures, speaks at VentureBeat's 2014 GrowthBeat conference in San Francisco on Aug. 6.

Image Credit: Michael O'Donnell/VentureBeat

SAN FRANCISCO — Good news, taquito fans: 7-Eleven is now “mobile-first and mobile-only.”

Yes, you still have to go to 7-Eleven stores for your Diet Coke, but 7-Eleven has at least switched its feedback process from dialing an 800 phone line to tapping its mobile app.

“When a company says it’s mobile-first and mobile-only, we are mobile-first and mobile-only,” said Michael Debnar, the leader of 7-Eleven’s Innovation Team, today at GrowthBeat 2014.

“So far we got 13,000 to 14,000 pieces of feedback in less than a month, and that is what we will get in a whole year with an 800 line.”

The convenience-store chain is also investing R&D dollars in its core product. Debnar revealed that, after a brief debut a couple of years ago, the company withdrew its Diet Coke Slurpees and sent the project back to the labs. “It’s a surprisingly hard problem,” Debnar said, “regarding making slushies out of diet sodas.”

7-Eleven is also attempting to learn from startups. It has an investment arm called 7-Ventures. Since 7-Ventures launched in August 2013, it has already invested in Belly, a customer loyalty startup; and KeyMe, a digital locksmith startup.

“We do strategic investments in startups. We do that so that we can learn, and they are usually adjacent to our business,” said Debnar. “And we are doing new business models and new category development. If it’s something so disruptive, and our core business can be kind of aligned with it, we will do business adventures,” which means investing in more experimental food and beverage startups.

More interestingly, 7-Eleven doesn’t even think itself as a traditional company that faces so-called disruption. Debnar compared 7-Eleven to Uber.

“I am a huge fan of two-sided marketplaces, you have on the one side a bunch of cars, and you have on the other side a bunch of people who need a car, and they are just the glue,” said Debnar. “We have close to 8,500 stores in United States. We can be that glue for a lot of things. For example we have Amazon lockers in some of our stores, [and] for example KeyMe is a company we have in our stores. We can actually become this two side marketplace just because we have a box that’s everywhere and we can connect people who need stuff to companies and services.”

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25 comments
Tony Melena
Tony Melena

I Have seen, as of late, 7-eleven, is doing damage to traditional grocery stores and fast food restaurants. They have been somewhat of a contender for a long time, but their level of sophistication overall and marketing, is increasing. I tried a slice of their hawaiian pizza, recently, and was impressed, that it was decent enough to eat. As for their dairy section, their prices are definitely competitive to local grocery stores, in my region of California. I have no interests in 7-eleven, other than that I am just a consumer. Howbeit, as of late, i have taken notice and wonder what their numbers are looking like.

Yannick Boucher
Yannick Boucher

Yes it is. It absolutely is. Especially if you've ever been to Japan.

Jason Kryzki
Jason Kryzki

Your headline is unfair and out of context

Klancy Kennedy
Klancy Kennedy

7-11 is innovative, but it's got NOTHING in common with Uber. WTF where they thinking using that as a comparison point? Apples and oranges.

Tibor Sekelj
Tibor Sekelj

For it to be innovative they should stop selling hazardous waste instead of food. In Thailand all they sell is sugary crap. The only thing without sugar is Sparking water.

Jerry Hsiang
Jerry Hsiang

7-11 in Asia sells all sort of things you can imagine. You can pay utility bills, make customize coffee etc

Sung Kim
Sung Kim

Not when I worked for them. They killed all the digital ideas including digital coupon and credit card reward program.

Jeremy Johnson
Jeremy Johnson

Recently, I have been surprised at how adapt my local 7'11 have been. They have drastically improved store appearances here in Virginia. They are constantly introducing new food items ( healthy and not so healthy). They also carry one of Norfolk's craft beers O'Connors. So in the "hand to hand combat" world of the connivence stores business, 7'11 is killing it.

Enrique CortesRello
Enrique CortesRello

Makes sense. They are the physical part of electronic exhanges. In Mexico one of the most innovativa large companies is Oxxo, a 7-11 competitor

Saad Enam
Saad Enam

A better question: Is Uber ONLY as innovative as 7-11?

Zach Downing
Zach Downing

Its too you can't go from one store to another and have the same experience. QuikTrip has it down.....too bad QT can't just buy all of 7-11 and fix the entire concept..

Alex Perez
Alex Perez

^^agreed. They're pretty much the center of everything in taiwan and japan.

John Lin
John Lin

7/11's in Japan and Taiwan are essential to every day life in those countries.

Chris Wybenga
Chris Wybenga

To be fair, 7/11 is frequently one of the first adopters to knew tech world wide when it comes to mass retail.