NATIONAL REPORT — Capturing a customer's attention, and actually maintaining that attention over time, is harder than ever before in today's noisy and distracting world. But one advantage retailers have is that most people are never very far from their mobile devices, even when traveling.
Convenience store retailers that capitalize on this by providing a compelling mobile experience will win both consumer dollars and loyalty.
"Mobile is the primary way we interact with our guests," Mike Templeton, director of digital experience and guest loyalty at Casey's General Stores Inc., based in Ankeny, Iowa, and operating more than 2,200 convenience stores in 16 states, told Convenience Store News. "The Casey's app is our starting point. From there, guests can decide how they want to interact with our brand — push notifications, messages within the app, text messages and email, too."
Mobile apps are a big piece of the puzzle for many retailers, but the mobile experience goes beyond just having an app for customers to download and use, according to Kevin Rice, executive vice president of growth, restaurant and convenience for Bounteous (formerly Hathway), a digital consulting company based in San Luis Obispo, Calif.
"People think, 'I have a mobile app so check that box and we are done,' but mobile is more of a customer behavior," he explained. "It's the way a customer interacts with your brand and is not static. It's not a single tech. Consumers are mobile and c-store retailers need to reach them where they are."
Looking at the total mobile experience of a consumer — which can cover discovery of products, searching or redeeming coupons or deals, finding the nearest store location, placing orders for pickup or delivery, and more — there are various possibilities to connecting across mobile channels. This includes a mobile app, mobile website, SMS or text messaging, email viewed on a mobile device, push notifications from an app, kiosks, and even car dashboard systems like Apple's CarPlay.
But no matter what ways a c-store chooses to interact with its mobile customers, consistency is key, according to Lori Stout, vice president of marketing at Punchh, a loyalty and reward program provider based in San Mateo, Calif.
"There needs to be consistency with messaging and the experience a customer has with the brand across all the different channels, including at the pump," she noted.
At Casey's, which works with Punchh, consistency is at the core of the mobile experience it creates for customers, and it starts with determining the right message for every customer, and then "immersing them in that across whatever channels they prefer," said Templeton.
"We personalize that messaging so that they see consistent offers at the top of the app, in email, and through the reminders we share."
Mapping out a strategy is also important, and that strategy should be unique to a c-store's brand by highlighting or capitalizing on its strengths, according to Rice at Bounteous. For example, if a brand has a strong foodservice offering, or a unique car wash offer, that should be "leaned into digitally," he said.
Customer feedback can also point retailers in the right direction of meeting needs.
"Casey's spends a lot of time talking to our guests about what they're looking for in a convenience experience," said Templeton. "That helps drive our roadmap and what we decide to build. If the guest isn't interested, it's all for nothing. When you get the experience right, traffic and engagement will follow."
Make It Simple
Creating a simple and easy-to-navigate experience on a mobile app, mobile website or online loyalty program is something today's consumers expect when it comes to interacting with brands. Whether it's logging into an account, redeeming a coupon or placing an order, having too many steps or a clumsy experience will deter consumer interaction.
"Something as simple as letting them login to your app or account with their Apple, Facebook or Google sign-in so they don't have to remember another password goes a long way," suggested Stout. "With an app, you can offer the ability to store payment information, so they can earn, redeem loyalty points and pay with a single scan. It needs to be easy to use."
For those offering mobile apps or websites, retailers need to avoid "feature overload" with too many options or distractions, Rice added, noting that the user experience must be easy to navigate.
"The fight for real estate on consumers' phones is growing more by the day," said Jeff Hoover, director of c-store data insights at Newton, Mass.-based Paytronix, which provides customer engagement solutions and loyalty programs for restaurants, retail chains and c-stores. "If there isn't a real utility to using the app, it will quickly be deleted."