NATIONAL REPORT — As consumer technology continues to evolve, convenience store retailers must follow suit not only to accommodate shopper preferences, but also to remain competitive and capture customer loyalty and spending. And when it comes to mobile — whether it’s marketing, ordering or payment options — many companies start with a branded app.
Through an app, customers can access loyalty programs, coupons, pay for purchases and more. Those who have been in the app game for a while are continually rolling out updates and new features to benefit the customer, and the c-store company’s bottom line as well.
“Mobile unlocks a tremendous opportunity to drive more consumers into the store and encourage them to buy more items, spend more money and come back more frequently,” Charlie Lang, executive vice president of product and marketing at Koupon Media, a promotion network in small-format retail, told Convenience Store News.
Shell recently rolled out an updated app, Shell Pay & Save, to offer its customers more ways to pay for fuel and in-store purchases by linking a checking account, credit card or debit card.
As of March 2018, Shell branded stations across the United States began accepting the Shell app with Chase Pay, but the most recent update in October 2018 added a wide array of payment options to the platform, said Albert Rivas, head of North America marketing technology for Shell Retail, based in Houston.
“The Shell app offers improved speed, convenience, value and security for a better overall customer experience, including fewer prompts when paying for fuel and no need to carry multiple cards and additional Fuel Rewards program savings,” Rivas explained. “Our focus is on providing solutions designed to simplify and better the overall experience, integrate loyalty, and deliver a differentiated and personalized customer experience.”
C-stores have an advantage in the mobile space due to the high frequency of customer visits in the channel, making it more likely consumers will download and retain a c-store app, according to Joel Udwin, mobile product manager at Paytronix, a loyalty provider based in Newton, Mass.
He believes an app is a “necessity” in the c-store space, allowing companies to get personalized in their marketing when tied to a loyalty program or payment capability.
However, there are other mobile strategies outside of an app available to operators.
“Mobile apps are important, especially in c-stores relative to other verticals because of the frequency of use, but an app is not a mobile strategy in and of itself,” Udwin said. “There is SMS marketing that allows you to get in front of customers who don’t have your app, or using Google Pay and Apple Pay to identify loyal customers, redeem offers and get credit for transactions.”
When it comes to mobile marketing best practices, today’s leading c-store retailers are offering branded mobile apps with a loyalty program and payment options built in — allowing them to reward customers, capture data to know what customers want, and then send targeted and personalized offers to customers in the future based on their past purchases.
“From an industry perspective, integrating loyalty programs is one of the ways in which mobile payment can reach and connect with consumers,” noted Rivas. “In our case, the Fuel Rewards program is integrated into Shell Pay and Save, creating a simple, seamless and rewarding customer experience.”
There is more to mobile marketing than an app, though. C-stores need to recognize the variety of customers they have and their different needs and preferences, and take a broader approach to mobile marketing in order to draw in more customers.
“For many retailers, it makes sense to have a mobile app and a loyalty program, but they can't stop there,” said Lang. “It’s important to have a multifaceted strategy to meet customers where they are. That means engaging consumers across channels like SMS, e-mail, Facebook and more. Not every customer will want to join a loyalty program, so it’s important to engage them in other ways.”
The percentage of customers who are in a c-store’s loyalty program averages only around 10 percent to 20 percent, Lang cited. This leaves 80 percent to 90 percent of shoppers that can be engaged and put on a path to join a loyalty program.
“An easy way for c-stores to begin engaging shoppers is through in-store signage. Start with a small ask like ‘Want a free coffee? Text COFFEE to this short code to receive your offer.’ The c-store now has the shopper’s phone number, creating opportunities for them to reengage,’” said Lang.
Geofencing and location-based marketing is another way c-stores can connect with customers on their mobile devices via messaging when they on the lot fueling their vehicle or within a certain distance of a store. This can work in conjunction with a branded app.
“C-stores can use this to convert people from the pump to the store,” Udwin shared. “When someone has the app installed and is sharing their location information with the brand to be messaged, they can get a push notification through the app with an offer or message to get them into the store.”
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