Considering smartphones are quickly becoming the No. 1 form of communication for many consumers, convenience store retailers are going “all in” in regards to launching mobile apps for their brands, which often incorporate loyalty programs and mobile payment, according to the 2015 Convenience Store News Technology Study.
Convenience giant 7-Eleven Inc.’s debut of 7Rewards was one of the highest-profile industry apps to debut in the past year. In addition, the power of c-store retailer apps was proven when Cumberland Farms Inc. announced on Oct. 1 of this year that its SmartPay app reached $1 billion in sales volume just two years after its release.
Nearly 39 percent of c-store chains responding to this year’s CSNews Technology Study reported they now offer an app to their customers, more than a 10-percentage-point rise compared to the 2014 study. More than 62 percent of chains also offer a loyalty program, a solid 4-percentage-point increase year over year.
Adoption of mobile payment saw an even larger jump on a percentage basis. Nearly one in four c-store chains (23.5 percent) are offering some form of mobile payment in-store — such as those available from Apple, Google and PayPal — compared to just 7.8 percent of chains in 2014 and 2.1 percent in 2013.
Advancement of mobile payment adoption at the pump is equally impressive, with 21.1 percent of chains stating they currently employ the technology, vs. 6.5 percent in 2014 and 2.3 percent in 2013. Hence, although several media reports have alleged mobile payment growth has been slow with the exception of Starbucks Corp., this data refutes that claim.
UPS & DOWNS IN EMV
Another interesting takeaway from this year’s Technology Study relates to the Oct. 1 EMV (Europay, MasterCard and Visa) in-store point-of-sale (POS) liability shift deadline. For the first time, CSNews asked c-store chain operators if they are EMV compliant at the POS. The results from the study, fielded shortly before Oct. 1, yielded both good and bad news.
First, the good news. All c-store chain retailers responding indicated they have at least begun the process of upgrading their in-store POS devices to be EMV compliant.
On the negative side, however, only 35 percent of chains said they were EMV compliant at the time CSNews fielded the survey. It is certainly possible more retailers have upgraded to EMV in the time since. In addition, fraud may not be massive at some c-store chains, leading them to decide they can afford to wait before making EMV upgrades.
EMV aside, c-store chain retailers are certainly placing an emphasis on overall technology upgrades. Ninety-six percent of chains responded they made a technology/automation upgrade in full-year 2014, compared to 91 percent the prior year. Chains spent an average of more than $1.8 million on upgrades, with a median of $325,000 spent per company. Both these figures easily trump the amounts spent the prior year. Nearly two-thirds of this money was spent on store-level technology, with the remainder remitted to boosting headquarters technology.
For full-year 2015, the majority of c-store chains said they expect to invest more in technology compared to 2014. More than 56 percent of respondents expect to spend more this year, compared to 46 percent who made the same assertion last year.