NATIONAL REPORT — In the past 12 months, it's become even more critical for retailers to meet consumers where they live — on their smartphones. If a retailer doesn't have a mobile strategy, or is not formulating one now, they are more than likely losing customers to their competition.
As COVID-19 hit the United States, convenience store retailers of all sizes began offering value-added services such as online ordering, delivery, and curbside pickup. This would have been nearly impossible — if not, impossible — to do without a mobile strategy.
"I think it's critically important for a retailer to engage with their guests on mobile and have a clear strategy on how they are going to do it," said Jeff Hoover, data insights strategist for convenience store brands at Newton, Mass.-based Paytronix Systems Inc. "The mobile device has emerged as the key touchpoint for most customers, especially in the last year. Customers are simply used to interacting with the world through their phones."
A mobile strategy can cover everything from marketing and social media to loyalty programs, ordering and payment. For retailers wondering where to begin, Hoover suggests they first look at their website.
"At minimum, you should have a mobile-optimized website since that's where most customers will be interacting with your brand,” he advised. “Ideally, you would focus on a mobile app, but this can be a much larger investment, although there are many good white-label app providers out there today that can at least get you in the game."
SMS should be considered as well, though text can be much more effective as another messaging layer to mobile apps and push/pull communication capabilities, noted Hoover.
Retailers also should beware of the pitfalls of a less-than-ideal mobile experience.
"A poorly designed mobile app could be worse than not having one at all, so make sure you find a good partner to match your budget," Hoover said. "This list is endless, but a good mobile development partner will be able to help you think through all the pitfalls."
With mobile, retailers can cover many bases — from online ordering to payment to rewards — and moving beyond the basics can score points with consumers.
"People include things like mobile payment, the ability to order ahead, curbside delivery, the ability to use the mobile phone to pay at the pump or at the car wash," said Punchh CEO Shyam Rao. "To me, this is just table stakes. What drives the next level of differentiation is how the brand voice translates to the personalization that consumers experience through the data you collect once you create a basic infrastructure."
Punchh, a San Mateo, Calif.-based technology company is a loyalty, offers and engagement platform that originally launched in the restaurant vertical and then saw the opportunity to enter the convenience channel in 2020. Casey's General Stores Inc. was the first retailer in the convenience industry to sign onto the platform. Punchh now works with Good2Go, Huck's, MacEwen and RaceTrac as well.
"Punchh's capabilities have contributed to Casey's growing its loyalty membership to over three million in our first year, as well as consistent increases in reward redemption," Art Sebastian, vice president of digital experience for Ankeny, Iowa-based Casey's, stated in a release.
"Punchh seamlessly integrates with our point of sale, fuel pump system, commerce platform and messaging hub, allowing us access to critical customer data across all of our in-person and online touchpoints,” he continued. “With this data, we are able to elevate all areas of our business — pizza, grocery and fuel — to deliver a more meaningful experience for our guests across our over 2,200 stores."
From Discounts to Retention
Zeroing in on keeping loyalty members, and not just building the ranks, is important.
"Modern loyalty is no longer about points and discounts. That ship has sailed and is antiquated," Rao said. To that end, Punchh focuses on customer lifecycle loyalty — converting people from that first anonymous transaction all the way through to making them super fans.
"If you have 10 million consumers, you need to have 10 million loyalty programs today. They need to be personalized," Rao stressed.
He believes what consumers want from the brands they interact with can be drilled down to three very clear things:
- Consumers want convenience, value and during COVID, they want safety;
- Consumers want personalized experiences; and
- Consumers want the same experience no matter the touchpoint.
"The advantage marketplaces like DoorDash or Amazon have is that they thought through these issues very well. The challenge for retailers is they really need to replicate those consumer experiences that marketplaces provide through their owned channels," he noted. "If you are transacting through Casey's website or Casey's mobile app, it needs to be on par or better than the Amazon experience."
From a loyalty perspective, Paytronix has found that the most valuable and frequently visiting guests engage at a much higher rate with mobile. It is also where retailers can interact with customers in a more dynamic and personalized manner that allows for targeted, profit-enhancing messaging and offers that don't subsidize existing behavior, according to Hoover.
"You could target customers at the pump with a personalized offer via push from a mobile app that would take into account their purchase history. This can only be possible when you have a clear mobile strategy," he said.