From smartphones and apps to voice-enabled devices, social media and online shopping, people live digitally in today’s world. This has changed the way retailers interact with and meet the needs of their customers.
“Digital engagement is more important now than ever because that is the way people live,” Art Sebastian, vice president of digital experiences at Ankeny, Iowa-based Casey’s General Stores Inc., operator of more than 2,300 convenience stores, told Convenience Store News. “People expect to digitally engage with restaurants, c-stores and grocery stores, and as a channel, we can’t be left out of that.”
Digital engagement for the c-store space is not just about getting customers onto the lot, but also getting them into the store and influencing their purchases once they’re there. It includes digital signage at the forecourt, digital signage in the store — such as cooler screens and foodservice menuboards — mobile apps, mobile marketing, loyalty programs and more.
“To be successful with digital, c-stores need to think more holistically about consumer experiences and avoid the shiny object of the week,” advises Kevin Rice, chief marketing officer at San Luis Obispo, Calif.-based Hathway, a digital growth partner for convenience stores.
Digital properties include websites, apps and digital signage, as well as channels such as email, SMS, push notifications, and in-app messaging. And it all needs to connect seamlessly with loyalty and marketing technology, so everything works together, Rice explained.
“Everything has to work consistently and seamlessly across every interaction and touchpoint for your digital strategy to be effective,” he said. “The industry is convenience, but it’s also the expectation of the customer, and this needs to be part of the digital strategy.”
Unlocking the Power of Data
One of the biggest benefits of interacting digitally with consumers is the data that can be captured, which can then help c-store operators make decisions on products, merchandising and marketing. Capturing and analyzing this data must be part of an overall digital strategy.
“For us, when you engage with a customer digitally, you are building data and that is one of the most powerful aspects we have at the moment,” Sebastian said.
When it comes to getting customers into the store, utilizing their mobile phones is where most retailers across all industries are focused right now. This includes mobile apps tied to loyalty programs.
“This might sound too simple, but our loyalty program is really doing the job for us,” said Sebastian. “We have 4.3 million members and if they use it, they have the mobile app, so we can send push notifications. This has become the leading driver of in-store conversions.”
Casey’s has been collecting data through its loyalty program long enough that it can now send personalized offers to individuals based on their past behavior, the time of day they typically shop the store, and other metrics. The chain can also track if those offers are opened and redeemed.
“We now have enough data on members that we know X customer typically buys a whole pizza every week, so we can app push at day 6 to close the gap on the purchase,” Sebastian explained. “Also, on Saturday at 10 a.m., I can push an offer for a $1 medium coffee to be redeemed that day and we can track the conversion rate of all customers who received the app push to see who buys.”
Many c-stores offering pay at the pump via a mobile app can utilize this type of push notification to also get customers from the forecourt into the store. Once in-store, it often results in them purchasing more than just the deal offered, according to Rice.
“When filling up the gas tank, customers are a captive audience, so give them a free cup of coffee to get them into the store, or offer a car wash coupon, or anything else you might have available to them,” he said. “Give them something to get into the door and they will probably buy something else as well.”
The same goes for digital engagement once a customer is in the store. With consumers spending so much time on their mobile phones these days, utilizing this to communicate to them allows retailers to create a personal connection. When someone is logged into an app, the c-store retailer can know they are there using geolocation, and many have access to past purchase history and preferences, so they can send a relevant push notification to entice them to buy.
Casey’s uses Salesforce’s Einstein artificial intelligence (AI) product to turn its sales data into business insights, and the chain is optimizing message send times using AI. Casey’s is also segmenting loyalty members by a variety of metrics, such as when they open messages, to maximize open rates, Sebastian noted.
“We do messaging as an app push, an in-app message in the app mailbox, SMS for those who signed up, and email — all depending on what a person responds best to,” he shared.
Many retailers are also focusing on digital signage and menuboards to engage customers and encourage more sales. This has become more than simply flashing products or promotions on a screen. With today’s technology, c-stores can cater the promotions they display to time of day or seasonality — and this includes kiosks.
“Kiosks when done well have great guest satisfaction and tend to drive higher basket sizes,” Rice said.
A major area of focus for Casey’s is making sure its in-store digital screens and menuboards are personalized and showing the most relevant content at the right time. Sebastian’s goal is to be even more personalized in this area, targeting what audience they are talking to, what day of the week, etc.
“We have digital menuboards, but there is work to do to personalize them and make them more relevant as well,” he acknowledged.