ANKENY, Iowa — As with any anniversary milestone in the convenience channel, retailers will find themselves asking, "What's next?"
With the commemoration of its 50th anniversary in 2018, Casey's General Stores Inc., the third-largest convenience store operator and the fifth-largest pizza chain in the United States, reflected on its first 50 years in business and questioned what it would take to be successful for the next 50 years. The answer was to be a bigger, bolder, more contemporary version of itself.
While Casey's had multiple factors working in its favor, such as a high store count, great products and famous pizza, the brand did not have a well-established digital footprint.
"Guests told us that they wanted us to make it easy to order pizza, so they wanted a mobile app. They told us they wanted a loyalty program like other restaurant chains. So, building the roadmap was pretty easy: listen to our guests and give them exactly what they want," Art Sebastian, Casey's vice president of digital experience, recently told Convenience Store News.
Digital would be the first expression of the contemporary Casey's. Evaluating its tech stack, the company had what Sebastian calls "fragmented technology" — white-label applications and entry-level technology. Instead, Casey's wanted an enterprise-grade marketing and technology application that was consolidated.
To that end, the c-store retailer and pizza chain operator tapped San Francisco-based Salesforce, a cloud-based software company that provides customer relationship management (CRM) solutions focused on sales, customer service, marketing automation, analytics and application development.
"We arrived at Salesforce not only for its reputation and capabilities, but saw an opportunity to consolidate Casey's customer data in the CRM and customer data platform (CDP), which would serve multiple applications, such as case management, marketing and messaging, and serve as an onboarding ramp to the digital media space," Sebastian explained.
With the launch of Salesforce's CDP, Casey's has a unified platform for customer profiles, which is approaching the 14 million mark, compared to 300,000 nearly four years ago.
By unifying this data, Casey's now has the ability to know more about its customers, what they do in-store, what they do online, and how they respond to messaging. The retailer also has enriched this data with calculated attributes, demographic data and second-party competitive shopping data. "So now, Casey's has an organized, enriched first-party data set and that's a great asset to us," Sebastian said.
Optimizing this data set, Casey's can send more relevant content and more personalized texts to customers, yielding higher open rates on messages, higher click-through rates and higher conversion rates. Ultimately, all of this leads to its loyalty customer base, Casey's Rewards members, visiting more often, spending more per transaction and therefore, having a higher lifetime value for the convenience retailer.
Casey's Rewards, which landed for the second consecutive year on Newsweek's "America's Best Loyalty Programs" list for 2022, recently surpassed 6 million members. More than 50 percent of those members are active on a 30-day basis. Most retailers measure on a 90-day basis and by that measurement, Casey's is at 64 percent active, which is industry leading, Sebastian noted. "We're proud we've enrolled 6 million members so fast, but even more proud that they're highly engaged," he said.
According to the executive, what makes the Casey's Rewards program so successful is that it is built different than other loyalty platforms. Members earn points for every $1 spent and they have the option to turn that into Casey's Cash, which works like currency, take it as a fuel discount or donate those points to a local school of their choice. More than 35,000 schools are currently embedded in the app.
"We've given our guests multiple ways to engage with our program and all of this is in addition to the hundreds of offers available that allow our guests to save money every day," Sebastian said.
Looking at the reminder of 2023 and beyond, Casey's is planning to build upon the success of its relationship with Salesforce in two specific areas.
The first is to bring even more real-time personalization to the customer experience. "Personalization happens in real time. You can't plan it six, 12 months out. You can plan your business based on seasonality and objectives, but to really personalize the experience, it needs to happen in real time, and be contextual and include previous purchasing behavior up to a minute ago, be contextual at the environment, the city you're in, etc.," Sebastian pointed out.
Secondly, by working closely with Salesforce on a first-party data set, Casey's is stepping into a new world of media retail networks. This will culminate in the launch of Casey's Access, where consumer packaged goods vendor partners can tap into this data to create audiences and connect with them to build genuine connections to everyday moments across the marketing ecosystem.
A soft launch of Casey's Access is slated to happen in the next month or so, followed by a go-live date in May.
DIGITAL ADVICE FOR RETAILERS
Sebastian, who spent 20 years in grocery retailing before moving over to the convenience channel when he joined Casey's four years ago, observes that convenience retailing is slower to digitally transform than other retail channels.
He credits Casey's ability to modernize and find the right partner with Salesforce for the retailer's capability to adapt and evolve.
"Convenience retailing hasn't modernized its technology as other retail sectors have, so the actions we took four years ago positioned us really well. Then, when COVID hit, we were very well suited to meet our customers with the way they needed to be met, with things like delivery, curbside pickup, the right connectivity with messaging, the right social media messaging. The transformation was very timely for us," Sebastian told CSNews.
He offers three key pieces of advice for convenience store operators who are considering a digital transformation, or just starting out on one:
Build a plan and be thoughtful with what digital components make sense for customers and make sense for the business. Then, sequence this plan on rate of return and dependencies amongst the business. "Be agile in planning because anything can happen and you have to be ready to pivot."
The notion of minimal viable product works well. "I challenge retailers that we're in a marathon, not a sprint, so you don't have to do everything right away. You can build an experience that makes sense for your business and continue to enhance it month over month."
Surround yourself with good people, whether you're hiring them to be a part of your team or you're enlisting them as software consulting partners. "Find the best people who can help you on your journey and embrace them. Work together to build the best experiences possible for your business and your customers."
Casey’s General Stores is headquartered in Ankeny. It operates more than 2,400 c-stores.