Although the convenience channel is playing catchup when it comes to connecting with shoppers, c-store operators need to remember that the race to digital engagement is a marathon, not a sprint. One misstep can change the conversation, but not taking any step ensures there is very little — or no — communication.
With that in mind, Abbey Karel, vice president of business development, convenience retailing, at Bounteous, outlined the five stops in a convenience retailer's digital journey during a recent industry webinar. The stops are: the inactive phase, the initiation phase, the foundation phase, the acceleration phase and finally, the innovation phase.
"This is where technology becomes core to the brand's DNA and it becomes core to its growth strategy," she said of the innovation phase. "Digital competence becomes a point of differentiation and brands have unique ways to engage with customers and drive incremental revenue."
Karel talked digital engagement with Chris Egan, chief information officer at Cincinnati-based United Dairy Farmers (UDF), and Zach Andersen, director of enterprise architecture at Circle K, during a recent Conexxus webinar entitled "The Technology Path to Better Digital Engagement."
As Karel pointed out, many c-store retailers are in the first phases of their journeys: inactive or initiation. However, both UDF and Circle K are somewhere in the middle of their transformations. Both are making moves around loyalty — UDF went live with a revamped U-Drive Plus loyalty program in 2021, while Circle K is working to roll out a loyalty program in North America — and both are making moves around contactless at the pump as well.
While there are some exciting things on the horizon for retail technology, and the innovation possibilities are endless, it is important for c-store retailers to be honest with themselves on where they stand in their digital journey, and not get too far ahead of themselves, skipping important steps along the way.