NATIONAL REPORT — The COVID-19 pandemic has made it more important than ever for convenience store retailers to update their digital strategy to meet new consumer demand for less contact, or even no contact.
"Being mobile-friendly is very important at this point," Mike Flebotte, partner at Business Accelerator Team, said during the recent Conexxus 2020 Annual Education and Strategy Conference. "So many consumers are looking at mobile devices and trending toward mobile that it is really essential for retailers to have a mobile-friendly web presence."
Driving home the importance of this, he noted that in the first quarter of 2019, the average daily mobile internet usage of millennials aged 25 to 34 was almost four hours. "Operators focused on appealing to this generation of shoppers really have to make sure their website is responsive across all devices," he said.
With a digital marketing strategy geared toward increasing customer visits, Flebotte said there are two ways for c-store retailers to drive visits and sales: sell current customers more and more often, and increase total customer count.
"When we are looking at ways to do that, looking at your website and mobile applications are paramount," he said, noting that other avenues are promotions and exclusive offers to drive potential customers to your app or website; press releases and announcements to engage potential customers; highlighting charitable causes; and social media content.
Mobile apps drive conversion more so than websites, according to Flebotte. In fact, mobile apps can generate up to 300 percent higher conversion rates than a website. "Operators evaluating the cost to maintain both — responsive website and a separate mobile app — should consider potentially a web app," he said.
Other best practices he offered for developing a digital strategy to drive traffic are:
- Plan for integration;
- Have a mobile strategy that enables two-way communication between the customer and the brand;
- Plan to be flexible;
- Redefine success; and,
- Think outside the box.
"Looking outside of your industry for marketing innovation and finding new ways to stand out against your competition is essential," Flebotte said. "As platforms continue to evolve, and shopping behaviors continue to change and shift, it's important for retailers to try to stay ahead of the curve seeking new and innovative ways to leverage technology to more effectively market to customers."
Salt Lake City-based Maverik Inc. is one retailer in the convenience channel that stands out when it comes to executing a successful digital marketing strategy.
Erin Strong, senior director of marketing and creative services, recalled that when she started at the c-store chain, the company had a creative services team that was doing a great job in creating thrilling content that really represented the brand. However, what Maverik didn't have was a marketing team. To fill that void, Strong spent the past 18 months building a marketing team and making sure it is utilizing great data to drive the content for telling the Maverik story.
"When building an omnichannel digital story, you really have to work with all of your departments — make sure everyone is on the same page, make sure everyone has your brand guidebook and that they are following that brand voice, and consider all the different digital customer experience touchpoints." Strong said, adding that it takes a collaborative effort among IT, marketing and project managers.
With the goal to increase trip frequency, Maverik has found success with its one-to-one offer network, which it launched in summer 2019. The offers range from basket builders and visit challenges, to weekday deals and special coupons. Maverik also utilizes "weak day deals," offering deals on the softest day of the week to increase sales.
Strong recommends retailers test different approaches to figure out what customers want. "Sending a batch of six different offers and trying to figure out which one they are going to click to load is a really great way to learn about your customers," she said.
She noted, however, that frequency is not enough; c-stores need to bring in new customers as well. To do this, she said it's important to provide relevant site content, be accessible and easy to locate, and make it fun.
"The important thing is to make it really captivating," she advised.
Making it easy for the customer — like with self-checkout kiosks — is another must-do. "You need to make life easier for the customer," she explained. "Intuitive digital experiences that are the same across platforms are really important. If you are putting your exit button on the top right on one platform, do that on every platform."
Building a cohesive customer experience is the ultimate aim.
"To do that, you have to break down the silos," she said, emphasizing the importance of collaboration. "Siloed teams put out work that is clearly siloed; you can feel it in the disjointed tech, and it creates a clunky experience."
The convenience channel has a new opportunity with mobile commerce, and it starts with registering the consumer and moving him/her into the purchase journey, according to fellow Conexxus Conference presenter Don Frieden, CEO and founder of P97, a mobile commerce and digital marketing platform provider.
From there, retailers have the opportunity to provide multichannel marketing, such as emails and in-app messaging, to influence the consumer along the journey. And then, step three is to leverage geolocation by having all the retailer's locations in the platform.
Additional steps in the mobile commerce journey, Frieden cited, are:
- Mobile pay at the pump;
- Mobile order ahead; and
- Loyalty rewards and targeted offers.
The benefits of moving a consumer to mobile are in the numbers, Frieden pointed out. Comparing NACS State of the Industry (SOI) data to P97 data, he cited that the average gallons per transaction based on card-based transactions is approximately 10.8 gallons per SOI's findings vs. an average of 12.2 gallons based on mobile transactions per P97's findings.
The Conexxus 2020 Annual Education and Strategy Conference was held virtually August 11-13. Based in Alexandria, Va., Conexxus is a nonprofit, member-driven technology organization dedicated to the development and implementation of standards, technologies innovation and advocacy for the convenience store and retail fueling market.