Convenience Central
Join our community
extra content

Fuel and wash sites embrace digital solutions

Screen Shot 2019-08-01 at 11.00.52 PMGlobal market analysts at Accenture recently looked at forecourt and the retail fuel sector to determine leading forces of change in the industry. Key among the discoveries is that digital systems provide the tools necessary to navigate the considerable changes impacting the forecourt and related services, such as car wash. 

Disruption is accelerating

In Fuel Retail Digital Survey 2018, authors Neale Johnson, managing director of Fuel Retail Europe, and Brian Gray, managing director of Retail Fuel North America, found that disruption to the market, from electric vehicles (EV), consumer behaviours and other factors, are accelerating.

Here in Canada, EV sales are moving forward at breakneck speed. In fact, sales have increased by more than 66% every year for the previous five years. These days about 8% of vehicle sales in Canada are electric.

The provinces and federal government are helping drive this change. For example, Quebec uses a quota system to push EV that requires auto dealers to sell a minimum percentage of EV or pay a penalty. British Columbia has recently expanded its zero emission vehicle policy to ensure that no gas-powered vehicles be sold in the province after 2040. Also, The federal government has increased its rebate program for electric vehicles.

Here, opportunities exist to develop more charging sites alongside traditional fueling centres.  Canada sports just 5850 EV charging stations, a number that shows fewer than one charging station for every 100-km of road across the country. The uptick is that with chargers taking about 30 minutes to juice electric vehicles, fuel centres have longer periods during which to sell convenience and culinary products.    

Commitments to digital investments

In the survey, 80% of respondents said they planned to make significant investments in digital solutions during the next five years. Operators said that these investments would allow them to better engage with customers and improve services. Investments include apps and POS systems to boost speed of service and enhance loyalty. Already we are seeing wash-site operators take up the digital challenge and run with it.

 For instance, Ontario-based operators such as Valet Car Wash and Klassic Car Wash have developed their own apps that are available via the App Store, Google Play and other sites. Users can load cash, activate washes, earn loyalty bonuses and explore other features. In the App store alone, there are more than 100 wash and fuel site operators, including Shell, McEwan Oil and Co-Op.

According to Mike Black of Valet Car Wash, Canada is more advanced than the U.S. when it comes to digital payment systems. He says that in the U.S. the wash business is 70% cash, with operators using coin boxes, while sites in Canada are exploring contactless payment, cards and apps.

At fueling sites, the coming fifth generation of Internet connectivity (5G) will bring huge enhancements to marketing and convenience at the pumps. Already auto manufacturers, such as Honda and Land Rover, have are installing features so that vehicles can facilitate payments for gas and other items. In Canada, our systems are not prepped for this activity and gas apps, including Shell and others, are not ready yet to perform purchase functions at the pumps. With 5G, however, everything is on the table, such as beacon technology delivering marketing messages to onboard visual displays and digital payment portals effortlessly taking payment.

Analytics enhances performance

With the increase in digital investment comes the ability to enhance analysis. Operators are now better able to predict customer behaviour thanks to sales tracking made easier through apps and POS tools. In wash systems, for instance, sensors now measure and work with electronic dispensers to more accurately deliver chemicals and water to the wash process. Operators are able to examine every stage of the system and fine tune for performance that can increase profits, as well as customer satisfaction.

At the forecourt, digital analytics creates greater efficiency in fuel delivery, margin control and staffing. And, the tools are all accessible remotely, allowing management to review and input from anywhere at anytime.


Digital maturity is the goal

The report emphasizes the need to continue investments in skills training, automation and partnerships. The authors say these are essential for operators to realize their digital aspirations. Already 42% of fuel operators report they are digital savvy and have launched systems to take advantage of the shifts in technology.

Better foundations needed to realize digital value

Fuel retailers may only be at the start of their journey, but they know where they are headed,says Accentures Brian Gray, adding that 75% of retailers surveyed saw digital systems as a major benefit to their business.   


What’s most important in the customer engagement equation?

GettyImages-857037318-1-teaserThanks to technology, connecting with customers is easier than ever before, whether it’s through loyalty programs, text messaging, social media, geofencing or in-app notifications. The flip side of this, though, is that consumers are getting inundated with messages from retailers and other brands vying for their attention, and it’s easy to get lost in the mix or lose a customer’s attention — especially if the messages are not relevant to them.

“If I never drink coffee, why would you send me an offer for a free coffee,” said Jeff Hoover, data insights strategist for convenience store brands at Paytronix, a loyalty program provider based in Newton, Mass. “However, if I bought an energy drink two months ago but have not purchased it again, sending a message about that might drive me back into the store.”

While email has been a popular way for retailers and marketers to engage customers, this area is so saturated that most people don’t open emails anymore, noted Hoover. In fact, a 20- to 25- per cent open rate is on the high end, meaning 75 per cent of customers are not opening and seeing the messages. As a result, many retailers are moving to mobile and in-app messaging; customers today are more open to this form of communication than in the past.

No matter which method a c-store retailer chooses, the most important thing to engage customers and keep them interacting with your brand is to offer value.

Whether the goal is to get them to opt-in to a loyalty program, receive text messages or receive in-app notifications, offering customers something in return for their opt-in will help drive adoption. The same goes for keeping them engaged — there must be value provided in exchange, according to Hoover.

“The value has to be there and you can usually see a correlation between participation and the value provided,” he said. “Customers want immediate value and ongoing value, and when it comes to loyalty programs, the first step is getting people to join. Offering a registration reward or a reward for downloading the app creates stickiness right away.”

Providing value should also be the goal when engaging customers via social media. While promoting specials and offers for a brand is part of all social media marketing, posts of this type should be limited, cautioned Brad Plowman, spokesperson at FUEL Marketing.

“Customer engagement can be tricky,” Plowman said. “We apply the 80/20 rule on social media engagement with customers, with 80 per cent of the content being informative, entertaining, funny or personality driven, while 20 per cent should be promotional. If the consumer has chosen to follow or like a company’s social media page, the best engagement comes from providing content that makes them want to return.”


If c-store retailers want to keep customers engaged with their content and communications, then focusing on offers relevant to them and their buying habits is crucial. Customers want to receive meaningful offers and value from interacting with a brand. Thanks to today’s loyalty programs and other engagement platforms, data is helping retailers to deliver just that.

“In order for our new program to work, we want to focus on unique offers based on what we know they are buying. We also don’t want to offer what other c-stores are offering,” said Vicki Goss, director of marketing for U.S.-based convenience store chain Double Quick, which operates 48 stores and recently launched new loyalty program and mobile app.

Engagement and the level of personalization continues to evolve as well, allowing retailers to drill down to the individual customer level. What started as sending everyone the same offer then evolved into segmenting customers into five or six buckets and today, data can be segmented down to each individual customer, noted Hoover.

“We can now look down to the personal level and find the right offer for the right individual,” he said. “If a customer comes into the store more frequently than they purchase gas, then sending them an offer to spend $25 in-store and get 10 cents off gas might not be as meaningful.”

In addition to purchase behaviour history, a customer’s visit frequency is another way to set parametres. C-store retailers can create “visit challenges,” Hoover suggested. For example, if a customer visits a store less than four times each month, the challenge would be to send them offers and get them up to five or more visits the next month. If someone comes in three times a month, the goal would be to get them to four times — and this would be done by sending them relevant offers, he explained.

C-store operators, however, must be aware of the frequency at which they reach out to customers, and it should depend on the level of interaction that customer already has with the brand. For example, create one segment for customers who visit two or three times a month and another segment for those who visit two or three times a week.

“Customers visiting daily would be more open to messaging once or week or even more, whereas those who visit once a month might get overwhelmed and opt-out,” Hoover warned. “It’s important to talk to your frequent customers more often and the less frequent customers less often, but make the communication relevant.”

Originally published at Convenience Store News. 

Road trip! Tips for driving c-store customer satisfaction with frictionless digital experiences

With more than half of traveling families expected to hit the road this summer, convenience store retailers are preparing for the ramp up of customer trips. Getting them through the door will take more than having low fuel prices and clean bathrooms.

Photo: Tony Webster

Photo: Tony Webster

During a recent road trip, Jim Lecinski, associate professor at Medill’s Integrated Marketing Communications Program at Northwestern University, stopped at four c-stores — with each satisfying different needs: fast groceries, favorite breakfast foods, fuel, lottery, snacks, and a restroom break.

Speaking at the 2019 NACS State of the Industry Summit this month, Lecinski explained his experience at each store depended on how well each retailer assisted him to get those six jobs done without friction at all points in his journey.

As he noted, c-store retailers can deliver a frictionless experience by tapping into their “mental model,” which consists of three elements:

  1. Creating a great retail environment;
  2. Driving people into your destination; and,
  3. Delivering a great experience.

There is one monkey wrench in the works, however, and it’s the increased use of mobile devices. “What happens when consumers don’t look up?” he asked. “Mobile changes everything.”

According to Lecinski, there are several moments of truth along a shopper’s traditional journey: the stimulus, the first moment of truth at the retail store and point of sale, and the second moment of truth — the consumer’s experience.

Mobile devices, however, added a zero moment of truth between the stimulus — like a highway billboard — and the retail store: pre-shopping, he added.

With that zero moment of truth in mind, convenience retailers need to create digital experiences that remove friction. Those digital experiences, according to Lecinski, need to satisfy a consumer’s curiosity, understand the demand and relieve impatience.

Citing Google search findings, Lecinski noted there was a more than 85 percent increase in mobile searches for “where to buy” products in the past year.

In addition, comparing Google findings from January 2015-June 2015 to January 2017-June 2017, there was a two-time increase in searches for same-day shipping, a three-time increase in “open now” searches and a 150-percent increase in travel searches including the words “today” and “tonight.”

All those point to a lack of patience among today’s shoppers. However, relieving impatience is a competitive edge convenience stores have, Lecinski said.

“Convenience stores have been historically successful in relieving impatience, but the bar gets higher because of mobile,” he noted.

Looking outside the industry at who is leading the way in delivering digital customer experiences, Lecinski pointed to:

  • Starbucks and its virtual barista
  • Domino’s and its zero-click ordering
  • Fresh EBT and its instant SNAP balance check

“Tech enables your brand to be assistive and reduce friction,” he explained.

Moving into the second half of 2019, Lecinski advised c-store operators to review their digital platform through three strategies:

  • Know me faster. How does your mobile site speed stack up to consumer expectations?
  • Know me better. How does your data strategy predict and personalize consumer needs?
  • Wow me everywhere. For what “jobs to be done” could you better assist your consumer?

Originally published at Convenience Store News. 

7-Eleven’s digital strategy is about expanding customer interactions

As technology advances, improved hardware can make a big difference in retail performance, but equally critical — or potentially even more important — is data and how it is used.7-eleven-logo-500x400

“Disruptions are coming at the c-store industry everywhere you look,” Kimberly Otocki, content marketing specialist for Paytronix, said during a recent webinar presented by the company, titled “How 7-Eleven Is Changing the Game…Again.”

This includes regular convenience stores that are embracing new technology, as well as outside competitors like Amazon Go. Additionally, dollar stores are starting to rival c-stores as they try to claim the convenience factor for themselves.

“Convenience is changing, and that’s why 7-Eleven is reacting the way they are,” Otocki said, pointing to the company’s 7Rewards loyalty program as the centerpiece of its digital strategy.

The primary goal of 7-Eleven’s digital strategy is to expand customer interactions beyond the four walls of the store and the forecourt.

Customer data is the key to customer engagement, used as the foundation for how 7-Eleven communicates with customers, how it gets them to return and how it keeps their loyalty, according to the webinar.

Smartphones and mobile devices offer multiple paths to mobile engagement, including push and pull messages, customer surveys, mobile-responsive emails and geofencing.

Geofencing in particular is a way of ensuring that c-stores message customers at the right time through the right medium, according to Otocki. Based on GPS, retailers can set a certain distance from their store at which their mobile app will notify the customer of reward items they are eligible for or what items are currently being promoted. The messages can be tailored to individual customers based on their existing data.

SMS text messaging is another way to reach and engage customers — and a popular one, as 75 percent of consumers indicate they would like to receive offer messages through this medium. SMS apps are also one of the most frequently used types of smartphone apps. As a result, companies can send personalized messages based on data in a medium they know customers are going to be in.

One platform-specific digital initiative that 7-Eleven has launched is a Facebook chatbot, which customers can message to seek out the nearest store or investigate deals, promotions and rewards point balances.

The digital trend that may be most important in the future, though, is mobile ordering and payment, as well as delivery, Otocki said. 7-Eleven first moved into this area by utilizing Apple Pay, Google Pay and Amazon Cash.

Mobile payments are a win-win scenario, offering customers faster-moving lines and offering retailers more data they can use to improve their customer experience.

Mobile payment can even give older stores a different feel, according to Otocki. “[Customers] see it as quicker and easier,” she said.

On the delivery front, she noted that it isn’t home delivery or nothing; c-stores can set up programs that deliver items to drivers at the fuel pump, connecting in-store purchases to out-of-store customers. Retailers can also designate pickup points for pre-ordered purchases.

7-Eleven is also experimenting with scan-and-go technology, simplifying the checkout process even further.

The key to success isn’t any one type of new technology, according to Paytronix. Retailers will likely succeed if they use data to help them change and stay ahead of the curve.

Paytronix provides loyalty programs and customer engagement solutions to convenience stores, restaurants and retail chains.

Originally published at Convenience Store News.


Traditional meets digital

Two young entrepreneurs breathe new life into an historic general store by bridging traditional with digital Read more