CStore Decisions partnered with Stuzo, an activation and commerce technology company, to recognize convenience store chains taking major strides in technology adoption, with specific focus on initiatives related to three categories: connected commerce, hyper-personalization and cross-channel engagement efforts. These are three technology trends that have accelerated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In fact, Stuzo found that more than 20% of convenience store retailers have added curbside pickup and contactless payment options to reduce friction and make the shopping experience more convenient — and safe — for customers in the past year.
For the purposes of this study, Stuzo examined the technology initiatives of the top 50 (by location count) company-owned and operated convenience store chains to determine those leading the way in each of the aforementioned categories.
Only chains that agreed to participate in the research program and supplied proprietary information were included for consideration. Major oil fuel brands have not been included in the research because fuel marketers don’t always have full control over the backcourt and programs compared to company-operated locations. The research was conducted in Q1 of 2021. Thank you to all those who participated.
Category: Contactless Payment
Winners: It’s a tie! Pilot Flying J and TravelCenters of America
The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic pushed retailers to introduce new contactless and frictionless payment options. “Providing customers with choice and flexibility in how they pay and in last-mile services (i.e. curbside pickup, local delivery) makes the shopping experience more convenient, provides retailers an opportunity to collect valuable data and enables retailers to provide a more personalized customer experience,” said Sandra Sydlik, marketing specialist at Stuzo.
“Pilot Flying J’s myRewards program and TravelCenters of America’s TruckSmart app provide customers with a more convenient way to engage with their brand,” said Sydlik.
Giving customers choices and flexibility in how they engage with your chain is key in today’s marketplace.
“Pilot Flying J and TravelCenters of America have done an exceptional job of providing professional drivers with contactless payments capabilities to create COVID-safe checkout options at the pump, more ways to earn points and rewards and a comprehensive strategy to build personal relationships with customers,” Sydlik said.
At Pilot Flying J, customers can pay using the mobile wallet in the myRewards Plus app, which supports credit cards and fleet cards. Contactless capabilities include tap and pay, Apple Pay, Google Pay, mobile fueling for commercial diesel, the ability to make mobile reservations for commercial truck parking and mobile shower reservations for professional drivers.
“As a result of COVID-19, consumer behaviors rapidly changed, and we’ve seen the use of cash continue to decline as mobile and contactless payments become easier to use and customers become more comfortable with contactless payments,” said Tyler Tanaka, vice president, digital & loyalty for Pilot Flying J, which has more than 1,000 retail and fueling locations across 44 states and Canada.
“Pilot Flying J is always looking to expand rewards and provide more value in the myRewards Plus app,” Tanaka said. “A big part of this involves integrating new technology capabilities to drive future innovation based on customer feedback.”
TravelCenters of America (TA) enhanced its TruckSmart app to include more contactless payment methods such as Apple Pay, Google Pay, ACH, gift cards, fleet cards and private-label cards, and it launched a new contactless payment method: PumpSmart, an app upgrade that allows professional drivers to start the diesel pump and pay for transactions via their smartphones. Drivers can also reserve showers, unlock the shower doors and reserve parking spaces right from the TruckSmart app — and redeem UltraOne loyalty points.
“TravelCenters of America is in the midst of a major company transformation, and we’re focused on enhancing the entire travel center experience for all who visit us. We’re hyper-focused on maximizing convenience, which includes contactless payments and ensuring we have all the services and items consumers are looking for while on the road,” said Sue Smolenski, vice president marketing at TA, which has more than 270 locations across 44 states and Canada. “Consumers have choices; we will continue to be forward-thinking and anticipate the needs of those who visit us. We want to allow our customers to interact with us in ways they want to.”
Smolenski noted that U.S. customers today are more concerned about health due to COVID-19, including concerns over touching surfaces and handling cash.
“We recognized that consumers across the nation are asking for more contactless payments as a way to minimize touch points. We’re adapting to better serve their needs,” she said. “Enhancing our TruckSmart mobile app with more contactless payment options (including PumpSmart) allows us to help minimize downtime for drivers, enabling them to get back on the road faster and more efficiently.”
Winner: Kwik Trip
Runner Up: Casey’s
The days of one-size-fits-all loyalty marketing are behind us; today’s customers want offers and rewards tailored to their unique needs. Retailers are driving customer loyalty by hyper-personalizing their offers and rewards. Stuzo defines hyper-personalization as intelligently leveraging behavioral, transactional and preferential data to optimize customer experiences in real time, creating personally and contextually relevant value on a one-to-one level, Sydlik explained.
“One-size-fits-all loyalty mechanics are not working anymore. It is important to focus on delivering the right message through the right channel at the right time to make the customer feel valued and appreciated,” Sydlik said. “Constantly delivering value to customers is a challenge but necessary to retaining customers and growing your share of their wallets.”
Hyper-personalization is a trend on Kwik Trip’s radar in 2021. The chain is already making strides in customizing the experiences c-store customers have using its digital and rewards channels.
“Kwik Trip sets a great example for providing customers a personalized experience via multiple channels,” said Sydlik. Delivering the correct message at the ideal time through the right channel — making the customer feel special and appreciated is key to standing out among competitors, she added.
Stuzo pointed out that Kwik Trip has a lot of ‘low-hanging fruit’ when it comes to personalization options that are already paying dividends.
Today, Kwik Trip is focused on taking advantage of these opportunities, while investigating the next level of personalization. At present, this includes personalizing the products it promotes, how it communicates to the user and the value the user receives. Kwik Trip fuels data for personalization from its rewards program, which includes location data, purchase history and a variety of different demographic-type data.
“When our guests engage with us through Kwik Rewards, they can expect a number of personalized experiences, including the offers or incentives they receive along with the various types of communications they’ll see about those offers,” said David Jackson, digital marketing and loyalty manager, Kwik Trip, which operates 750 c-stores in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Iowa.
The La Crosse, Wis.-based chain has dedicated a lot of effort to increasing its personalization capabilities over the last few years, and it remains a goal for the chain.
“Long-term, there are many more opportunities to take advantage of from a personalization standpoint, which we expect will increase engagement among our already very active members,” Jackson said. “Not only will this add more value to the program for our guests, but will also allow us as an organization to focus on more messages, promotions and campaigns targeted toward the right audience at the right time.”
Personalization is also a major focus for Ankeny, Iowa-based Casey’s, which is on a journey to expand its level of personalization from ‘one-to-many’ to ‘one-to-some’ with an eventual goal of reaching ‘one-to-one’ personalization.
“Personalization is the way we create relevance for our guests. If we show our loyalty to our members through those consistent, familiar experiences, they’ll be much more likely to show us their loyalty in return,” said Mike Templeton, director of digital marketing and guest loyalty for Casey’s, which operates 2,200 stores in 16 states.
Casey’s Rewards platform, which it launched in January 2020, is the foundation Casey’s is using to gain data points — such as transactional data and data customers provide like their name, email, zipcode and birthday — to hyper-personalize offers and rewards, as well as the ordering experience. What’s more, customers don’t have to download the mobile app to receive a personalized experience. Casey’s collects data when customers order via the website and can personalize the customer experience based on how many times they have ordered in the past, how many pizzas they’re ordered, etc. Casey’s personalization efforts come to life in the way the chain targets its messaging across channels — using SMS, push notifications, mobile app, mobile payment, mobile ordering, email and the website to engage customers digitally.
In September 2020, Casey’s added curbside pickup to its mobile app, and it has added an ‘I’m here’ button to the app, which notiﬁes the store to bring the order out to the customer’s car.
Category: Cross-Channel Engagement
Runner Up: RaceTrac
Retailers today are working to provide a consistent customer experience across channels, offering options in how a customer can engage with their brand. Offering a cross-channel approach to marketing can help improve customer satisfaction and lifetime value, Stuzo reported. Examples of cross-channel marketing for convenience stores can include drive-through, delivery, kiosk ordering, mobile app-based ordering and payments, ordering options at the pump, car-based apps and in-store or curbside pickup, etc.
Wawa, Pa.-based Wawa was an early adapter of mobile solutions, launching its app in 2015. As the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, Wawa educated customers on its contactless payments and other services and features, running awareness campaigns via email, playing videos at the pump and using social media. Today, Wawa is taking the work its loyalty team has been doing to the next level to improve performance and personalization across channels.
“The pandemic challenged retailers to adapt to changing customer behavior in a matter of months. Wawa was able to react to the changes and seize the opportunity to deﬁne the next normal, setting an example for outstanding cross-channel customer experience in the convenience industry,” said Sydlik.
In June 2020, Wawa accelerated plans to add curbside in response to the pandemic. Customers can place an order for curbside pickup within Wawa’s mobile app. Wawa offers designated parking spots for curbside pickup. In January 2021, Wawa introduced its ﬁrst drive-through location and is set to expand the concept.
“Our customers’ needs are ever-evolving,” said Todd Miller, director of brand strategy and experience for Wawa, which operates over 900 stores in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Florida and Washington, D.C. “Understanding, delighting and fulfilling on those needs are core to who we are and how we approach our all our channels and services, whether digital or physical.”
Overall, Wawa has shifted from traditional channels to more non-traditional channels and expects to see a growth in those non-traditional channels over the next one to two years. The chain is looking to add SMS communication for order-ahead confirmations, as well as introducing more digital and physical channels — like drive-through — in the future as usage grows.
Atlanta-based RaceTrac Petroleum is also doing a superior job of cross-channel engagement. RaceTrac, which operates 560 stores in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Tennessee, communicates with customers via its mobile app, email, social media and at the pump, and it has plans to expand into SMS communication.
In April 2020, RaceTrac introduced mobile ordering, allowing customers to place an order 24/7 and pick up the order within 30 minutes from a grab-and-go box. RaceTrac also offers a pass-through window to cater to customers who prefer not to enter the store.
RaceTrac is considering the various channels for engagement and mapping those against the customer journey to determine which channel to use at what point in the customer experience, as well as working to understand which channel the customer prefers in order to provide a more personalized experience.
“Our guests lead busy lives and are constantly on the go, so we need to meet guests where they are and give them what they need for a seamless interaction with RaceTrac,” said Lanna O’Connor, director of loyalty and digital marketing for RaceTrac. “Whether that’s through tailoring our marketing communications to our guests’ channel of choice or providing options for delivery, online ordering, self-checkout or drive-through pick-up, we want to offer our guests a quick and convenient experience to make their lives simpler and more enjoyable.”