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When consumers shop at convenience stores, they don't expect value. More than likely, they expect to pay more, not less, than they would at supermarkets.

Southland Corp., parent of the 7-Eleven chain, intends to change that.

The nation's largest convenience store operator is testing everyday low pricing at its 250 stores in the Dallas/Fort Worth area in a move designed to make the chain more competitive.

The new pricing policy is part of a revamped business strategy that also involves extensive store remodeling and more emphasis on product variety. This strategy was quietly tested last year in Austin, Texas.

The company's 50 stores there experienced steady sales increases, higher daily customer counts and bigger average sales transactions. Updated interiors, fresh produce and gourmet items also helped attract more female shoppers.

In Dallas/Fort Worth, 7-Eleven is lowering prices on more than 1,000 items-nearly half the merchandise-to levels equal or close to prices at EDLP supermarket retailers. Rather than rely on roller coaster pricing, Southland intends to offer consistent prices in the hopes of duplicating the Wal-Mart Stores success formula.

"This is not a gimmick to get people into our stores," said Michael Roemer, 7-Eleven's senior VP-merchandising. "We've been working for the past couple of years to bring about fair and reasonable prices at our stores because that's what our customers have told us they want.

"This is a long-term business strategy that, when placed in the context of all the other changes we've made, will redefine the convenience-store shopping experience. Very basically, we will still offer convenience, but additionally, we'll also be giving our customers more value for less money."

It is unclear whether the new pricing policy will be expanded to other markets. However, it is clear 7-Eleven is making dramatic changes to do more than survive in a marketplace that has been tough on convenience stores.

Even 7-Eleven's new ad campaign from J. Walter Thompson USA, Chicago, challenges conventional wisdom by poking fun at (mis)perceptions about convenience stores. In TV and radio spots, comedians change their thinking about prices, product selection and the store's interior once they experience the new 7-Eleven (AA, Dec. 20).M

2711.67-Eleven's new campaign plays off shoppers' misperceptions about the stores, including prices, and features comedians such as Louie Anderson.

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