It’s no secret that the number of consumers using omnichannel digital tools in their purchasing decisions is growing.
C-stores today are responding, offering order-ahead and delivery through mobile apps and websites, and growing loyalty programs beyond punch or swipe cards to include a mobile interface that often features payment options as well as rewards tracking. There’s little doubt that those businesses not using digital means as part of their retail mix will find themselves left behind.
The pandemic has accelerated the digital trend. “The Digital Divide,” a December 2021 report from financial site PYMNTS.com, found that 42% of consumers have used at least one digital purchase aggregator since the pandemic, and 15% are “multiplatform users,” meaning they’ve used three or more.
An omnichannel approach to loyalty programs involves engaging customers across different touch points, such as from the website to the mobile app to inside the store.
Upland, Calif.-based Anabi Oil, with more than 300 company-owned and franchise stores nationwide, recently launched its Rebel Coin loyalty program and mobile app at its Rebel stores. The program plays to consumers’ desire for simplicity. There are no rewards points to calculate or to exchange for purchases. When a member is close to a free reward item, the app lets the member know.
“Let’s say, for example, when you buy a fountain drink, you would be able to see these rewards in progress on our app, and you would be able to see how many more fountain drinks you need to buy in order to get the seventh free,” said Wing San Kwong, senior financial analyst for Anabi Oil.
Customers want that ease of access to their rewards progress. According to market tracker Deloitte’s 2021 consumer loyalty survey, an overwhelming 80% of consumers said ease of use is a highly desired attribute of a retail loyalty program, and 60% want an accessible, enjoyable digital experience.
Linking In-Store and Forecourt
Price discounts and free items tied to purchase frequency drive the Rebel Coin program. When registering, members automatically receive a five-cent discount per gallon for their first five fill-ups. There’s also a basket offer — spending $25 in store — which earns cents off per gallon on the next fuel purchase. Rebel Coin also features a frequency reward for beverage purchases as well as for car washes.
“We have a car wash club. When you buy six car washes, you get the seventh free. We have the fountain club, we have the coffee club. So if you buy six coffees, your seventh coffee is on us,” said Kwong.
Generating that customer frequency is vital. The Deloitte survey found more than 35% of respondents said they interact with a program weekly. That engagement jumped another 35% when it came to interacting with a program on a monthly basis.
The Deloitte study also noted that seven in 10 retail loyalty program members engaged more frequently with digital programs. Nearly as many (67%) spent more with those retailers. And around half said they modify what they buy and how much they spend, and are more likely to recommend that retailer.
Still, won’t there be problems getting a new program and digital tools up and running?
“I wouldn’t say problems,” Kwong said. “But we certainly had different hurdles that we needed to get through in order to get the app operational. Because, again, this is our first loyalty app.”
Plus, the California-based chain had the added challenge of launching the program in different markets and time zones. The program so far is active at Anabi’s 130 Rebel stores in Florida and the Midwest, with plans for the Las Vegas market next and more of its stores to become operational soon.
Make It Personal
Conversely, Ankeny, Iowa-based Casey’s, operating more than 2,300 stores across 16 Midwestern states, launched its app program a few years ago. Now, the company has moved forward with instilling digital customer convenience throughout the entire business.
Casey’s Vice President of Digital Customer Experience Art Sebastian said that personalization is the key. Casey’s wants to anticipate its guests’ needs and add value to every interaction.
“We’re looking at our guest journey,” said Sebastian. “How we interact with them to drive awareness, consideration, purchase loyalty and then create efficacy. And then we’re looking at our digital experiences: the website, the mobile app, our loyalty program — essentially, any screen — and thinking through, ‘How do we personalize that for each individual?’”
The company recently completed what Sebastian called a three-year digital transformation. Casey’s strategy illustrates how a high-tech approach is being used to elevate the customer experience.
“When I talk digital transformation, we’re essentially reshaping how value is created and how we do business,” Sebastian said. “And that comes to life in technology, business models, hiring the right people, setting the foundation, etc.”
It’s a holistic approach to elevating the company. Sebastian noted that other retailers looking to embark on a similar effort should understand that it’s a long-term process. There’s a lot of planning and logistics involved — much more than simply setting up a rewards program.
“I always (tell other retailers) to lean into people and recruiting talent,” he advised. “Digital transformation’s sort of a longer-term game. It’s not a one-year, ‘Hey, I need to see all the benefit now.’ So they just need to plan for that in terms of financial planning, return on invested capital calculations, etc.”
Whatever type of omnichannel marketing and loyalty strategy a retailer adopts, it’s essential that the digital approach leads to a personal touch.