NATIONAL REPORT — From smartphones and apps to voice-enabled devices, social media and online shopping, people live digitally in today’s world. It has changed the way retailers interact with their customers and meet their needs.
“Digital engagement is more important than ever because it’s how people live,” said Art Sebastian, vice president of digital experiences at Casey’s General Stores Inc., based in Ankeny, Iowa, and operator more than 2,300 convenience stores. Convenience store news. “People expect to interact digitally with restaurants, convenience stores and grocery stores, and as a chain, we can’t be left behind.”
Digital engagement for the convenience store space isn’t just about bringing customers to the field, it’s also about getting them into the store and influencing their purchases once they’re there. This includes digital signage on the forecourt, digital signage in the store – like cooler displays and restaurant menus – mobile apps, mobile marketing, loyalty programs and more.
“To succeed with digital, convenience 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, text, push notifications, and in-app messaging. And everything has to connect seamlessly with loyalty and marketing technology, so it all works together, Rice explained.
“Everything needs to work cohesively and seamlessly across every interaction and touchpoint for your digital strategy to be effective,” he said. “The industry is about convenience, but it’s also about customer expectation, and that needs to be part of the digital strategy.”
Unleash the power of data
One of the biggest benefits of digital consumer interaction is the data that can be captured, which can then help convenience store operators make product, merchandising, and marketing decisions. Capturing and analyzing this data should be part of an overall digital strategy.
“For us, when you engage digitally with a customer, you create data and that’s one of the most powerful aspects we have right now,” Sebastian said.
When it comes to bringing customers into the store, most retailers across all industries are currently focusing on using their mobile phones. This includes mobile applications related to loyalty programs.
“It may sound too simple, but our loyalty program really does the work for us,” Sebastian said. “We have 4.3 million members and if they use it, they have the mobile app, so we can send push notifications. It’s become the main 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 in the store, and other metrics. The channel can also track if these offers are opened and used.
“We now have enough member data to know that Customer X typically purchases a whole pizza each week, so we can push the application to Day 6 to close the gap on the purchase,” Sebastian explained. “Also on Saturday at 10 a.m. I can offer an offer for an average $1 coffee to redeem that day and we can track the conversion rate of all customers who received the push app to see who bought.”
Many convenience stores offering pay-at-the-pump through a mobile app can use this type of push notification to also drive customers from the forecourt to the store. Once in store, that often leads them to buy more than just the deal on offer, Rice says.
“When you fill up on gas, customers are a captive audience, so offer them a free cup of coffee to get them into the store, or offer them a car wash coupon, or whatever you might have at their disposal,” he said. “Give them something to get in the door and they’ll probably buy something else too.”
The same goes for digital engagement once a customer is in the store. With consumers spending so much time on their mobile phone these days, using it to communicate with them allows retailers to create a personal connection. When someone is logged into an app, the convenience store retailer can know they are there through 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 channel optimizes message delivery times using AI. Casey’s also segments loyal members by a variety of metrics, such as when they open messages, to maximize open rates, Sebastian noted.
“We do messaging in the form of app push, in-app message to in-app mailbox, SMS for those who have signed up, and email – it all depends on what to what a person responds best,” he shared.
Many retailers are also focusing on digital signage and menu boards to engage customers and encourage more sales. It has become more than just displaying products or promotions on a screen. With today’s technology, convenience stores can tailor the promotions they display to the time of day or seasonality, including kiosks.
“Kiosks, when done well, provide high customer satisfaction and tend to drive higher basket sizes,” Rice said.
One of Casey’s primary areas of focus is ensuring its digital screens and in-store menus are personalized and show the most relevant content at the right time. Sebastian’s goal is to be even more personalized in this area, targeting what audience he is talking to, what day of the week, etc.
“We have digital menus, but there is work to be done to personalize them and make them more relevant as well,” he acknowledged.