“Loyalty is built through convenience and a sense of appreciation,” said Friendly Express Director of Marketing & Foodservice Gary Sellers. “The challenge is to address both in overall marketing strategies including loyalty platforms.”
Friendly Express, which operates 34 stores in southeast Georgia, debuted its new loyalty program integrated with private-label debit in March, developed in partnership with ZipLine, which was recently acquired by PDI.
The Express Rewards program gives customers incentives like fuel discounts, clubs and ‘Surprise & Delight’ offers, which Sellers considers a “fresh spin on rewards.” Based on the cumulative amount spent inside the store, customers are rewarded with free items.
The clubs, he said, are more of a traditional loyalty offering, which reward customers with a free product after a certain amount is purchased.
The key, he added, is having great vendor support.
“We have vendors fully funding a club inside a category while being assured exclusivity in the category,” Sellers said. “Surprise & Delight is also a great way for vendors to push new items — a fresh spin on sampling.”
Also upping its loyalty game is York, Pa.-based Rutter’s, which recently launched a new app in partnership with Paytronix. The app was designed to give Rutter’s Rewards customers more personalization, like the ability to connect to their Facebook profile picture and receive VIP offers.
The Rutter’s Rewards program enables customers to earn cents off on fuel with in-store purchases, in addition to an everyday three cents off. Members can also view their fuel rewards, monthly promotions and VIP-only offers, as well as search for store fuel prices and amenities.
Rutter’s Director of Fuels, Forecourt and Advertising Chris Hartman said the goal with the new app was to adapt to technology trends.
“We were the first c-store chain to create an app, over 10 years ago, so we knew what we wanted and knew it was time to move on to our 2.0 mobile app,” he said, adding that the chain has “big plans for additional features.”
Friendly Express’ goal was similar: adapt to the current technology in order to reach a more diverse group. Considering the current climate and challenges, Sellers said, customer response has been very good.
“Almost all of today’s customers have one thing in common,” he said. ”Technology.”
Positioned for Success
Technology provides advantages across all aspects of the business, from the store to the forecourt, especially during COVID-19.
With current forecourt promotions focused on cents off per gallon for Express Debit users, Friendly Express is able to provide “completely touchless transactions inside and out, with the exception of the fueling nozzle.”
At Rutter’s, NCR Optic screens enable the chain to advertise and provide contactless payment at the pump.
In an effort to help its customers during the pandemic, Rutter’s extended the redemption period on fuel rewards for Rutter’s Rewards members. All fuel rewards earned between March 1 and May 31 were given a 120-day redemption period, versus the usual 60 days.
Rutter’s is also continuing to promote cleanliness, value and convenience, while adjusting its offering to fit customers’ needs. For example, it’s focusing on products that come in larger quantities, such as take-home meals and its Spiked Slushie Party Bags, as well as other in-demand products like hand sanitizer.
“When customers change their needs, we have to adjust our marketing to let them know we can satisfy those needs,” said Hartman.
Ultimately, he sees the convenience industry as well positioned for success, with customers looking for things like convenience, limited exposure and fewer total stops. But marketing to their strengths is what will set convenience stores apart.
“We must take advantage of our strengths through our marketing,” said Hartman. “The key points to focus on are cleanliness, convenience and options. If we can market and execute on those three things for our customers, the convenience industry should be able to find sustained success in the post-COVID world.”