Wawa Searches for Right Mix of Technology vs. Customer Service

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Wawa Searches for Right Mix of Technology vs. Customer Service

By Melissa Kress, Convenience Store News - 03/12/2012

PHILADELPHIA -- Similar to other industries, retailers need to be at the forefront of technology before they find themselves behind the eight ball. But, as Wawa CEO Howard Stoeckel admitted, sometimes you swing and miss.

"Not everything we've done with technology and social media has worked," the convenience store chain’s chief executive said during his presentation last week at the St. Joseph's University Food Industry Summit 2012.

For instance, about seven years ago, Wawa partnered with a third party to introduce online ordering through cell phones. As Stoeckel explained, the program was tested in several stores, but after three months, the retailer could not get customers to use the capability. Why? According to the CEO, customers said they preferred to order inside a Wawa store.

The c-store operator encountered a similar response when it installed ordering technology at the gas pumps. The company launched two separate programs at several locations, but once again customers gave the technology initiative a thumbs down. Customers also steered clear of the company's attempt at a drive-thru concept, according to Stoeckel.

"Customers told us they like the technology, but they don't want us to take away that personal interaction," he explained.

On the other hand, social media is helping Wawa establish a presence in Florida -- even before the doors open at its first Orlando location this July. "We need to learn how to use social media without losing the personal interaction," he observed.

Despite its share of misses, Wawa does have its share of success stories with technology and social media. For example, the company uses its website as "an online destination for information from food to fuel," Stoeckel said. Customers can visit the website, which has been optimized for mobile technology as well, to check fuel prices and even find out what’s the soup of the day.

"We used to get so many phone calls every day to find out what soup was on," he said.

Wawa also posts promotional and community-related videos on YouTube, and as for the giant of all social media, the company now stands at nearly 850,000 Facebook fans. Those fans can create a custom hoagie to place on their Facebook timeline.

Forgot Valentine's Day? Send a virtual Wawa hoagie, Stoeckel added.