For decades, convenience stores were one-stop shops for what some may have considered “low-end” purchases. Few, if any, seriously considered sophisticated solutions aimed at retaining consumers with special offers or loyalty incentives. However, the rapidly changing expectations of today’s consumer are prompting c-stores to evolve their view of consumers from simply representing “transactions” to opportunities to create “experiences” that drive sales and loyalty.
According to NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing, stores that sell fuel average around 1,100 customers per day, or more than 400,000 customers per year. Yet it’s estimated that only 30 percent of consumers who pump gas will physically enter the convenience store, thus significantly reducing the opportunity for c-stores to make additional sales beyond fuel purchases. This means c-stores rarely have the opportunity to sell anything besides fuel to the majority of their customers.
Not surprisingly, figuring out ways to drive customers from the pump into the store — where profit margins are higher — is a primary objective of c-store operators who want to improve and capitalize on this new customer experience.
CAPTURING IDLE TIME
The key is to capture consumers’ attention during idle time while pumping gas. This can be accomplished by leveraging new digital media solutions that engage customers at the pump with multimedia content, including national and local news updates and commentary, which is informative and entertaining.
Mixing this content with loyalty and promotional incentives for in-store products enables c-stores to leverage the pump in ways that help entice customers to enter the store. Certain solutions even continue engaging customers after they enter the store. For instance, while customers are purchasing merchandise at the counter, digital customer-facing touchscreens present them with targeted promotions, discounts and other money-saving incentives, which are targeted specifically to what they’re purchasing at that moment.
Let’s say a customer is purchasing a breakfast sandwich at the counter — based on a promotion they received at the pump. As soon as the clerk scans the item, a special promotion for a specific brand of beverage or similar product that goes hand-in-hand with the sandwich is presented to the customer through the screen. Simultaneously, a sales script supporting the offer is presented to the clerk to help drive the sale. The customer simply touches the screen to accept the offer in real time.
This alignment of messaging outside and inside the c-store delivers a consistent and personalized experience that increases the likelihood that consumers will enter the store and, even better, make an in-store purchase.
Another benefit of these solutions is that c-stores aren’t tasked with having to acquire the news, entertainment or advertising content they deliver to customers. News networks and retail brands are aware that petroleum forecourts and c-store checkout counters — even digital taxi-tops and in-taxi TV networks — represent valuable DOOH marketing channels through which they can reach more consumers.
As a result, certain digital media solutions that utilize such channels furnish multimedia content that is created and funded by retail brands (or the advertising agencies that serve them), giving c-stores the flexibility to customize content and special offers according to their individual needs.
Creating a customer experience in such a way cannot only help c-stores efficiently drive sales, but also increase loyalty. It’s estimated that about 80 percent of consumers who enter a c-store don’t know what they’re going to purchase inside. This provides a tremendous sales opportunity, and loyalty programs can provide a major influence over consumer purchasing decisions.
According to the 2013 Maritz Loyalty Report, on average, consumers are enrolled in 7.4 loyalty programs, and more than nine out of 10 members want to receive communications from the loyalty programs in which they participate. More than half of consumers, according to the report, indicate they modify where and when they buy in order to maximize the benefits they receive.
C-stores in particular have the most to gain by engaging the “on-the-go” consumer with targeted coupons and rewards and quick in-store experiences. For instance, beverages are the top seller inside the c-store, with coffee being the hot beverage of choice and generating more than 77 percent of hot dispensed beverage sales.
Through display screens at the pump, c-stores can offer loyal customers a favorite beverage at a discount or with bonus loyalty points to entice them into the store, where they can reinforce the offer and present upselling and cross-selling promotions at the counter.
But competition for coffee sales is increasing, not only from global retail coffee brands, but also from fast-food chains and even drugstores. Savvy c-stores are relying on marketing to generate coffee loyalty and customization is the key, ensuring each customer has the opportunity to obtain the beverage they favor the most.
An evolution in the c-store space is underway; customers are increasingly being viewed as opportunities to create lasting, valuable experiences — rather than simply opportunities for transactions beyond fuel sales.
Integrated solutions that enable c-stores to engage customers in meaningful ways are key to creating this type of experience by leveraging existing touchpoints.
As more c-stores work with their solution providers and partnering advertisers to put these solutions in place, the types of experiences they can create will influence where consumers go to fuel up and make c-store purchases.
Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.