IRVING, TEXAS — As technology advances, improved hardware can make a big difference in retail performance, but equally critical — or potentially even more important — is data and how it is used.
"Disruptions are coming at the c-store industry everywhere you look," Kimberly Otocki, content marketing specialist for Paytronix, said during a recent webinar presented by the company, titled "How 7-Eleven Is Changing the Game...Again."
This includes regular convenience stores that are embracing new technology, as well as outside competitors like Amazon Go. Additionally, dollar stores are starting to rival c-stores as they try to claim the convenience factor for themselves.
"Convenience is changing, and that's why 7-Eleven is reacting the way they are," Otocki said, pointing to the company's 7Rewards loyalty program as the centerpiece of its digital strategy.
The primary goal of 7-Eleven's digital strategy is to expand customer interactions beyond the four walls of the store and the forecourt.
Customer data is the key to customer engagement, used as the foundation for how 7-Eleven communicates with customers, how it gets them to return and how it keeps their loyalty, according to the webinar.
Smartphones and mobile devices offer multiple paths to mobile engagement, including push and pull messages, customer surveys, mobile-responsive emails and geofencing.
Geofencing in particular is a way of ensuring that c-stores message customers at the right time through the right medium, according to Otocki. Based on GPS, retailers can set a certain distance from their store at which their mobile app will notify the customer of reward items they are eligible for or what items are currently being promoted. The messages can be tailored to individual customers based on their existing data.
SMS text messaging is another way to reach and engage customers — and a popular one, as 75 percent of consumers indicate they would like to receive offer messages through this medium. SMS apps are also one of the most frequently used types of smartphone apps. As a result, companies can send personalized messages based on data in a medium they know customers are going to be in.
One platform-specific digital initiative that 7-Eleven has launched is a Facebook chatbot, which customers can message to seek out the nearest store or investigate deals, promotions and rewards point balances.
The digital trend that may be most important in the future, though, is mobile ordering and payment, as well as delivery, Otocki said. 7-Eleven first moved into this area by utilizing Apple Pay, Google Pay and Amazon Cash.
Mobile payments are a win-win scenario, offering customers faster-moving lines and offering retailers more data they can use to improve their customer experience.
Mobile payment can even give older stores a different feel, according to Otocki. "[Customers] see it as quicker and easier," she said.
On the delivery front, she noted that it isn't home delivery or nothing; c-stores can set up programs that deliver items to drivers at the fuel pump, connecting in-store purchases to out-of-store customers. Retailers can also designate pickup points for pre-ordered purchases.
7-Eleven is also experimenting with scan-and-go technology, simplifying the checkout process even further.
The key to success isn't any one type of new technology, according to Paytronix. Retailers will likely succeed if they use data to help them change and stay ahead of the curve.
Paytronix provides loyalty programs and customer engagement solutions to convenience stores, restaurants and retail chains.