How Should C-stores Get Going Around Pokémon Go?

NATIONAL REPORT — Charmander, Squirtle, Kakuna and Pikachu. If you’re a mobile-gaming youth or a nostalgic adult, these names may mean something to you. And if you’re a convenience store retailer, they should mean something to you, too.

Although it only became available in the United States on July 6, Pokémon Go has quickly become the most sought-after, craze-over, augmented reality mobile game that brings the 90’s Pokémon franchise to the 21st century via Niantic, a Google startup that developed the game.

With more than $14.04 million in revenue, Pokémon Go has already surpassed leading apps such as WhatsApp, Instagram and Snapchat, with 60 percent of users visiting the app daily, according to 3Cinterative, a mobile technology and solutions company.

Through the Pokémon Go app, users can "catch" Pokémon seemingly in real life. Once the app is downloaded, the game enables the usage of a user's GPS and clock on their mobile device to determine which Pokémon will appear in the game. When the creature appears on the map, players have the option to tap on it. If they do, Pokémon Go will open the camera on the user's device to catch the Pokémon.

With so much momentum already at play, many retailers have begun exploring ways to capitalize on the craze.

One way is by using lure modules on a “Pokéstop” in the game to attract more users to certain areas, such as a store location, so that there are more Pokémon to catch, according to Andrew Levi, founder, chairman, CEO and chief technology officer for Blue Calypso, a company that specializes in mobile shopper engagement. 

“Convenience stores could promote that there are plenty of Pokémon to catch in the store to attract these gamers, which will drive additional foot traffic and result in more potential sales,” Levi told CSNews Online.

In addition, there are "truly endless" possibilities for how a c-store retailer could apply the concept of Pokémon Go within their own branded or multi-branded app, he noted. The premise is to create a similar game-like environment within the c-store brand's app to engage shoppers. For example, shoppers could open the c-store brand's app when walking into the store and be immersed in a game-like environment on their screens. From there, they could view special deals or coupons only visible within the app that correlate with products on their shopping list hidden throughout the store.

“Then, as he walks the aisles to capture the discounts for the products on his list, other coupons could appear to inspire impulse buys. He may not have planned on buying chips and [a soda], but the combo deal that he caught was too good to pass up,” explained Levi.

This approach can likewise lead to an increase in customer engagement and customer loyalty. A game-like environment peaks customers’ interest and excitement, so it will bring them into the stores more often, therefore increasing foot traffic and sales.

“The more exclusive the in-game rewards are, the higher the probability that consumers will continue to engage with the app each time they go in the store to shop,” Levi explained to CSNews Online. “This, in turn, will build store loyalty and with enough shares on social media, could also drastically increase the number of brand advocates."

Like any craze, Pokémon Go is sure to fizzle out in its own time, but this shouldn’t discourage c-store retailers from implementing the concept into their own mobile app. When the smoke clears, Levi recommends retailers dissect and evaluate what worked and what didn't work for the game. They should ask themselves: Did additional marketing efforts help drive profits? How did consumers respond to the game marketing, both in the app and out? 

Additionally, analysis of how the app remained successful, or what caused it to die down, will help retailers avoid similar mistakes if they choose to implement a game in their mobile app again, Levi noted.

“Remember that every new campaign will have trials and errors, so retailers should always listen to the feedback that shoppers are giving in response to the marketing efforts and adjust strategies and implementation accordingly," he said. 

Ahead of the Game

Some convenience store chains are already taking advantage of the Pokémon Go phenomenon to drive traffic into their stores and increase customer engagement.

Here’s a rundown of what a few c-store operators are offering their customers for catching Pokémon in-store:

  • Parker’s Convenience Stores. Over the course of one weekend, customers were encouraged to visit any one Parker’s location, capture a screenshot of themselves catching a Pokémon at the store, and add it as a Facebook post on Parker’s page. One winner received the Parker’s Pokémon Hunter Prize Pack that included one of the company’s 40th anniversary insulated refill cups, $20 in Parker’s cash and a pack of the new Reese’s Pieces Peanut Butter Cups.
  • QuickChek Corp. The chain held a photo contest, in which customers purchased a handcrafted Q Café drink, caught a Pokémon, snapped a picture of both, and then posted it to QuickChek’s Facebook page. The winner received a $25 QuickChek gift card. 
  • Thorntons Inc. Customers shared a photo of a Pokémon caught at a Thorntons location using the hashtags #Thorntons and #PokemonGo to receive a “special treat.”

Click on the gallery above to see what other c-store retailers are doing around Pokémon Go.