Apps offer the convenience of digital rewards, plus analytics to enable retailers to better target customers.
By Erin Rigik, Senior Editor
As consumers grow increasingly mobile, loyalty programs are evolving to keep up with technological trends. C-stores of all sizes are positioning themselves to target customers on their smartphones, in order to better reward customers with personalized offers.
Atlanta-based RaceTrac Petroleum, with 420 locations, debuted a loyalty program via a new mobile app on April 1. RaceTrac launched the app to gain a better understanding of who its consumers are at a personal level, said Melanie Isbill, executive director of marketing for RaceTrac.
RaceTrac partnered with IBM in the creating of the app. “While IBM was our third-party developer and tech support for the app, the spirit and innovation behind the RaceTrac Rewards app was an internal undertaking,” said Isbill. An internal RaceTrac team supports the app’s performance, tracks metrics and determines the strategic direction, while IBM lends backend support.
In addition to rewards, the app uses an enhanced store locator that uses the guests’ GPS locations to list the closest RaceTrac with gas prices and amenities. “Geolocation can be a useful tool in determining what offers may be the best fit for each individual guest. If we know that the guest often passes a store that has our Swirl World frozen treat offer, then we can provide a Swirl World coupon,” Isbill said.
RaceTrac uses a four-tier approach to reward its most loyal customers. As guests move up each level the items they can spend points on expands, as does the frequency of their free fountain, soda or coffee drinks. Guests begin at the “Duke of Hot Dog” level. When they achieve 500 points, they move to “Price of Pastry” (offering one free drink per month). Level 3 “King of Coffee” includes one free drink per week. Level 4 “Sultan of Soda” includes one free drink per day.
The new loyalty program is 100% in-app, with no accompanying loyalty card. RaceTrac mobile app users scan the barcode on the app or enter a phone number into the keypad at checkout to earn points. To make redeeming points easy, coupons don’t have barcodes. When customers scan their loyalty barcode at checkout, the system checks for available rewards and guests automatically receive all discounts they have available for items they are buying.
Customers also have the option of either putting their rewards points towards a donation to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, or gifting the rewards coupon via email to a friend, who can then download the app and redeem it.
RaceTrac aims to make the app part of future promotions and use it to offer exclusive deals for rewards members. This summer, app users get $2 off the RaceTrac SodaPalooza cup.
After the program launched on April 1, RaceTrac offered seven free drink coupons to use within two weeks of downloading the app in April as an incentive for customers to sign up. Free roller grill and candy coupons were also available.
“Our original goal was 100,000 downloads. As of April 27, we had already hit 250,000 downloads,” Isbill said.
Kum & Go launched a mobile app rewards program, &Rewards, on April 1 at all 430 Kum & Go c-stores in 11 states. Kum & Go first ran a pilot test of the app in Sioux Falls, S.D. and Colorado Springs, Colo., beginning Jan. 4, 2016, spanning 20 stores.
“We’ve worked to design a program that customers would not only use, but truly appreciate—a program that rewards them with items they already purchase and fuel discounts they’ll use,” said Kristie Bell, communications director for Kum & Go.
Over time, Kum & Go plans to use the program to provide more targeted offers, and extras such as Happy Hour specials, birthday rewards and pop-up offers on items customers have purchased in the past.
Customers gain five points for every $1 spent in the store and two points per gallon of gas. To access rewards, customers scan a mobile barcode, swipe a physical card or enter their phone number at the point of sale. The multi-platform approach makes the program accessible to everyone.
Once customers have obtained 250 points, they can choose from a free any-size fountain drink or coffee, a free breakfast item, pizza slice or bakery item, or 10 cents off per gallon of gas up to 20 gallons.
“We wanted to put customers in the driver’s seat—by allowing each customer to choose the reward he/she wants, we think the program will be more meaningful and drive more loyal customers to use the program with every visit,” Bell said.
If an award is available, the associate is prompted to ask if the customer wishes to use the reward. Customers with more than one reward can use them at the same time, and fuel rewards can be combined.
“If a customer wants to change his or her reward of choice after each reward is earned, he or she could redeem all those rewards at the same time,” Bell said.
As of the beginning of May, there were 100,000 registered members in the program and 65% had downloaded the app.
PARTNERING FOR SUCCESS
But not all chains have 400-plus stores and the ability to launch a proprietary loyalty app. Some smaller chains, however, are succeeding via partnerships.
Boyett Petroleum, which operates eight c-stores under the Cruisers banner in California, recently partnered with GasBuddy OpenStore to launch a redesigned Website and a new mobile app with a matching design.
“It was a perfect time for us to move forward with technology and get on board with an app that offers games, coupons and provides analytics,” said Michelle Gill, marketing director for Cruisers. The app rolled out with a soft launch at the end of December 2015, and was officially announced on April 7 of this year.
“Gas Buddy provided marketing materials, such as a button the employees could wear that said download our app and cards with a QR code that customers can scan to download the app,” Gill said. “And then we included a free in-app coffee coupon for every download.”
Cruisers is using beacon technology in conjunction with the app. “If customers are at the gas pump and their app is enabled for push notifications, we can ping them at the pump with a promotion and try to drive them into the store,” Gill added.
Valley Dairy, with nine c-store locations in Grand Forks, N.D. and East Grand Forks, Minn., also launched a mobile app on April 1 through a partnership with GasBuddy.
“With GasBuddy OpenStore, we have been able to offer our customers a high-quality and professional looking app, which is something that isn’t always capable for small, local businesses,” said Danielle Thorpe, marketing specialist, VALDAK Corp.
Both the Valley Dairy and Cruisers apps offer customers the chance to win prizes via games. Cruisers offers two games: Spin to Win—a slot machine game, and a Bubble Pop game. If customers match three items they win a coupon for that item, which can be redeemed in store. Prizes currently include free coffee, free soda or free game credits to continue playing.
Valley Dairy offers a game called Hockey Pop that works the same way but with hockey pucks instead of bubbles. “Hockey is a big part of our community and we wanted the game to be unique and engaging for our customers,” said Thorpe. Game prizes are switched out monthly. Valley Dairy also rewards customers for checking in to store locations or selecting a favorite location within the app. “We also have the ability to survey app users on what they would like to see within our stores or about their level of satisfaction,” said Thorpe.
Valley Dairy also added its coffee punch card to the app where after the sixth coffee purchase customers get the seventh free. “We have had this club for many years, but wanted to offer our customers a simplified way of tracking their coffee purchases. It is very easy to lose, misplace, or forget your punch card,” Thorpe said.
Cruisers added its fountain punch card to the app. Once the app is able to accommodate multiple punch programs, Cruisers plans to also add its coffee punch card to the app.
Regarding analytics, Cruisers is just getting started. “We are able to see the usage, what time of day people are using the app, how many downloads per week and how long people are playing games,” Gill said.