The first year of Casey’s Rewards customer loyalty program didn’t go according to plan.
“We had a great January and February, and then COVID hit,” said Art Sebastian, vice president of digital experience for Casey’s General Stores, headquartered in Ankeny, Iowa.
No one at that time could foresee the impact the novel coronavirus would unleash on convenience stores, but conditions actually presented the chain of 2,300 sites a unique opportunity to test its ability to attract customers to the program during a time when casual shopping was depressed.
Casey’s Rewards members were invited to join frequent-purchase clubs to earn bonus items and play a sweepstakes game on its mobile app to win free merchandise.
“That added value and engagement drove traffic into the stores,” said Sebastian.
In fact, Casey’s Rewards surpassed 3 million members in its first year.
Casey’s wasn’t the only c-store chain promoting a new rewards program during a pandemic. Louisville, Ky.-based Thorntons, with more than 200 stores in six states, launched a rebuilt Refreshing Rewards loyalty program in early 2020, incorporating new features such as age-restricted offers. The addition of a digital banner ad space enabled the company to communicate new safety protocols directly with members.
“In response to our current COVID environment, we added safety-awareness digital banners that link to our CEO Simon Richards’ letter to the community, outlining the countless ways we keep our team members and guests safe,” said Annie Boone, manager of digital marketing for Thorntons.
By July, Refreshing Rewards began accepting new memberships via text message as a means to grow customer connections while minimizing contact. And as an enticement, new members received 15 cents off per gallon of fuel.
“We are currently in the process of creating a BOPIS (buy online, pick up in-store) option that will be available in the Refreshing Rewards app, as well, in 2021,” said Boone.
The Push for Personalization
COVID-19 isn’t the only factor influencing loyalty programs lately. Well before lockdowns, the trend toward personalizing offers was firmly established. According to “The Loyalty Report 2020” by Bond, nearly two-thirds of consumers are willing to modify their spending habits to earn maximum loyalty points; but campaigns promoting rewards reflecting personal spending patterns had a 6.4-times greater lift. Bond also reported people are eight times more likely to commit to specific shopping trips if a loyalty offer is considered relevant to their needs or indulgence spending.
A recent survey by the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) in conjunction with loyalty and engagement platform Punchh found 85% of c-store owners and operators acknowledge that personalizing loyalty programs is extremely important, but it also shows that only a minority of c-stores currently execute on it. The research reveals 15% of stores still use punch cards, and only 14% solicit loyalty through mobile apps.
“Regardless of their size, finding ways to capture information about shopper behavior is increasingly important. Retailers need to explore ways to build their digital presence so that they can connect with shoppers long before they are inside their store,” said Lori Buss Stillman, NACS vice president, research.
Using data to understand people’s purchase preferences can also help advertise new products. “Forbes” reported repeat customers are 50% more likely to try a new product — or promote similar items.
“We know based off of our data insights consumers who behave as habitually morning shoppers. While it’s nice to reward them with morning-like products, we also try to entice them with a higher reward item to get them to change their behavior and visit us during other dayparts,” said Nathan Arnold, director of marketing for Englefield Inc., based in Heath, Ohio. “By utilizing email and push notifications, we are able to communicate to our members and provide them customized offers.”
Englefield runs the Duchess Crown Card program at its 119 Duchess Shoppe c-stores.
Casey’s Sebastian noted personalizing rewards is at the top of his priority list for 2021.
“Many (rewards programs) have the standard ‘earn a hot dog, doughnut or fountain soda,’ but there’s not a lot of choice in that,” Sebastian said. “What if I don’t want a hot dog or soda? There’s no way for me to participate. We want to make the choices interesting.”
“Being tailored, strategic and relevant is what is required to bring offer personalization to life in 2021 and beyond,” advised NACS’ Buss Stillman.