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How to Level Up Your Loyalty Program


NATIONAL REPORT — In today’s retail space, loyalty programs are everywhere. Making sure a rewards program stands out enough for customers to join, and remains relevant enough for them to continue using it, are challenges every convenience store operator faces.

“A big challenge for any loyalty program is educating the consumer on it,” said Kevin Smartt, CEO of Kwik Chek, a 47-store chain based in Bonham, Texas. “You need to let people know you have it, how it works, and the benefits of it. That is the biggest challenge we have today.”

The best way to accomplish this, outside of on-site signage and advertising, is to get employees involved in the process. Although, this presents another challenge in and of itself, according to Natalie Walker, loyalty administrator for Waycross, Ga.-based Friendly Express Inc., operating 34 c-stores.

Friendly Express includes training on its loyalty program as part of the company’s overall online training for employees. The retailer also has a loyalty training guide available, discusses it in manager meetings, and communicates with employees about it via email.

“You have to educate the staff in the stores to sell and perpetuate the program,” Walker explained. “If the staff is not asking every customer to join and is not excited about the program, it will get lost. If you can get cashiers involved and using it, it’s easier to sell.”

Friendly Express recently revamped its loyalty program and introduced “Surprise and Delight Rewards.” The retailer now offers three levels of rewards based on spending, and customers can choose to redeem offers at the first tier or wait until they reach a higher one.

“The tiers are $25, $50 and $75. For the $25 spend, they can choose a discount on fuel or a free item in-store. Once the customer accepts the reward, they have 30 days to spend it,” Walker said.

Because it takes a lot of time and effort to not only start a loyalty program, but also to continually grow and maintain it, there needs to be staff dedicated to the task, noted Chris Hartman, director of fuels, forecourt and advertising for Rutter’s convenience stores, based in York, Pa.

As customers’ demands and needs change, a loyalty program must adapt. However, it should not be changed too much because then customers could get confused and the education process will have to start all over, Hartman cautioned.

“It’s important to build a program you can sustain over the long haul that is easy for customers to understand,” he said. “We try to tweak as we go rather than overhaul, so customers continue to see the value in it.”

A Continuous Evolution

Retailers across the convenience channel are stepping up their loyalty programs – whether it’s a refresh or a total overhaul – with the goal of keeping up with the demands of today’s consumers, which include personalization, ease of use, and value. They’re incorporating mobile apps, adding a wider range of redemption options, and lengthening the expiration of points earned.

“A good loyalty program has stickiness, so a consumer won’t want to leave you because someone else has a better discount down the road, and it’s important for each retailer to find what that is for them,” advised Smartt.

Kwik Chek recently relaunched its loyalty app with a streamlined signup process and other enhancements, including giving members the ability to use their points both outside at the pump to roll back the price of fuel or inside the store to lower their transaction amount.

Rutter’s also recently launched a new custom app with a range of new features. The chain added geofencing, so it can target customers individually and direct-message them through the app.

“We can group customers into certain baskets, like tobacco users or people who purchase food,” Hartman explained. “There are a lot of ways to use the data we have to target offers that benefit individuals with items they would want to see.”

Going forward, the c-store retailers all foresee their loyalty programs continuing to evolve and grow to meet customers’ changing needs. They are constantly evaluating their programs, considering customer feedback, and adapting to the changing times.

“On a monthly basis, we look at what is successful and what is not successful in terms of offers, and we look at what competitors are doing or other industry leaders to see what might make sense for us as well,” Hartman said. “We also look at customer feedback through the app and website, and they are generally very vocal about what they want.”

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