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06/23/2022

Why a Digital Loyalty Program Is a Must-Have for Any C-store Retailer

Huck's made the switch and is reaping the benefits.
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c-store digital shopping

CHICAGO — To better understand consumer habits, convenience store retailers must make the move from traditional card-based loyalty programs to digital ones. 

Huck's Convenience Stores made this switch during the COVID-19 pandemic and has been pleased with the results, Jon Bunch, the Carmi, Ill.-based retailer's director of marketing and business development, said during a recent Convenience Store News webinar. The Huck’s Bucks Bigg Rewards program received 20,000 signups following its 2020 launch.

"We saw less people on the road during the pandemic and fuel gallons dropped. We had to find consumers and get them into our stores. We saw a large ROI [return on investment] on our technology platform," Bunch explained. 

Along with the revamped loyalty program, Huck's enhanced its offer with the assistance of delivery platforms such as Grubhub and Uber Eats. Pizza, chicken, ice cream and candy became huge sellers at the chain's 125 locations, according to Bunch. 

The Huck's Bucks program will soon offer contactless payment, online ordering and pickup, among other enhancements. 

"A big thing we did was get our employees engaged and trained," Bunch added. "Once they were trained, they became Huck's Bucks ambassadors. That led to our success."

Transactions at Huck's convenience stores involving loyalty customers are $5 more on average than non-loyalty customers. 

"Loyalty customers also like trying new products, and we often have new products to offer them," Bunch said. "And they pump more gas [than non-loyalty customers]."

A Tremendous Opportunity 

Huck's teamed up with Punchh, a San Mateo-Calif.-based loyalty platform, to develop the Huck's Bucks program. 

Punchh and Bounteous, which helps convenience stores drive sales through digital experiences, work together to provide both the software and services for c-store operators who desire a digital loyalty program.

Kevin Rice, executive vice president, restaurant and convenience for Chicago-based Bounteous, spoke during the webinar of how COVID significantly changed consumer behavior. Prior to the pandemic, only 5 percent of employees worked at home. That figure quickly jumped to 33 percent. As employees now begin to return to work, millions of peoples' loyalty is up for grabs.

"Loyalty is not just about earning incentives for purchases. Saving time is huge, including online ordering and curbside pickup," Rice asserted. "There is a tremendous opportunity for brands to dive in."

Lori Stout, vice president of marketing for Punchh, added that contactless transactions really earned the trust of customers during the pandemic.

"The only good thing to come out of the pandemic was the digital transformation," she said.

When designing a loyalty program, c-store retailers should "lean into their brand position" and know what makes them unique, Rice advised, noting that one size does not fit all. He also recommends retailers get started with a two- to three-year plan already developed. 

That said, loyalty programs change over time, so c-store retailers do not need to get everything perfect from the outset. 

In addition, small operators can absolutely get involved and have a great loyalty program. "I have seen many smaller operators 'punch above their weight class,'" Rice said.

Future Predictions 

How might digital loyalty programs change in the future?

Stout expects c-store operators to offer subscriptions for signature food products. She also sees artificial intelligence and machine learning being important innovations that will make a substantial difference.

Bunch sees autonomous checkout — something Amazon currently offers at its Amazon Go locations — as something c-stores will implement. "It is a way to ease labor constraints and help employees," he said.

Rice believes cross-category loyalty programs, which have already been implemented by some retailers, present an opportunity for all c-store operators. An example of such a program would be gas customers receiving coffee discounts.

An on-demand replay of this webinar, "Winning Consumer Loyalty: From the Forecourt and Beyond," is available here.