The NAG 2023 Conference continued Tuesday afternoon on March 28 in Austin, Texas, with c-store retailers discussing how they are incorporating different payment systems in their stores while helping young leaders learn how to build political relationships.
For the third session of the day, speakers included Abigail Cerra, senior innovation and brand marketing for Refuel Operating Co.; Denise Jenkins, vice president of marketing, insights and loyalty for United Dairy Farmers; Aaron McLean, chief marketing officer for Stuzo; and Lorraine Spadaro, chief information officer for Global Partners.
During the session, McClean asked various questions on how Jenkins, Cerra and Spadaro are bringing in or improving different forms of technology, including point-of-sale (POS) systems, loyalty programs and payment systems into their c-stores.
Loyalty programs and payment systems have been successful in c-stores, and Cerra shared the impact Refuel’s loyalty program has had on its customers.
“We relaunched our mobile app, and we also launched a new loyalty program that has had tremendous success with our members over the past six months,” said Cerra. “We were also able to condense the different POS systems we have.”
Jenkins agreed with Cerra when it comes to rebranding loyalty programs.
“We evolved our loyalty program to better meet the needs of our customers and what they were asking for from a loyalty program,” said Jenkins. “Now with U-Drive Plus, customers can not only redeem cents off per gallon at the pump but take advantage of member pricing.”
Spadaro added that Global Partners is also interpreting new forms of technology to keep customers coming to its Alltown Fresh stores.
“We did launch a loyalty program called Alltown Neighborhood Perks. However, it was our focus on delivering new service styles that really drew in customers,” said Spadaro. “Adding self-check-out stations along with foodservice business is what’s keeping technology successful in our stores.”
McLean touched on how even though it’s essential for customers to have these loyalty programs and self-check-out systems, it’s also important to ensure the technology works properly.
“Oftentimes, we focus on meeting the customer, and we can forget about focusing on how we can operationalize our programs effectively internally as well,” said McLean.
The panelists then went on to discuss some important factors when enhancing POS systems in their stores.
“The POS system does not always have to be the critical point in the cycle of the customer’s journey through the store,” said McLean. “The POS system can start to be more of a point-specific solution to enable the best possible customer experience; whether it’s ordering on a kiosk or through self-checkout, we can’t be held up on one piece of technology.”
Lastly, the panelists talked about the important things to consider when enhancing or upgrading c-stores payment types such as Venmo and PayPal.
“I think payment within a wallet is very important, so stay as close to Google and Apple as much as you can because tracking age verification and wallet through both of those will help move transactions along for sales,” said Spadaro.
“It was better for us to invest in hardware than software so we can have payment readers inside the store and outside at the pumps,” added Jenkins. “We are also getting more advanced as far as migrating to Apple technology at the pump for payment because it gives customers new capabilities in terms of wallet.”
Overall, when it comes to implementing or upgrading technology in c-stores, retailers should take their time and make sure everything is right before launching.
“Even though you need to take the crawl, walk and run approach, you also have to go through the overwhelming experience of doing it all at once and get it all right, or you will never reap the benefits, and you have wasted a decent amount of money on programs and technology,” said Cerra.
During the YEO Breakout Session, the topic focused on how retailers can build their political relationships while also helping young leaders develop their own relationships in the world of politics.
Amongst the speakers were Kyle May, director of external relations for R.J Reynolds; Liz Bradford, founder and president of Bradford Public Relations; and Kalen Frese, director of merchandising and foodservice for Warrenton Oil Co.
It is crucial for retailers and young leaders to build political relationships because the convenience store industry is facing a difficult political landscape on all levels, including local, state and federal.
“Some challenges might include a tobacco sales ban which could result in a decrease in your business from 30% to 40%, and state regulations that may impact your fuel service costs,” said Bradford.
The first step retailers should consider when building political relationships is finding out how to address different people in politics. On the local level, retailers may hear mayor, council member or commissioner. On the state level, retailers may hear senator, representative and governor. While on the federal level, it’s possible to hear congresswoman, congressman and president.
“When you greet these people in politics, you want to refer to them by their title and last name,” said Bradford.
Secondly, retailers should invite their local or state lawmakers to their stores, which is a great way to start building those political relationships.
Other steps retailers can take to build political relationships includes getting involved in their community, signing up for representatives’ newsletters and inviting political figures to local events.
“Retailers should also want to attend council meetings and get to know the staff as well,” said Bradford. “Retailers should want political figures to know that they are paying attention as a business owner because the mayors and council members are paying attention to who shows up meeting after meeting.”
After retailers have built those relationships, they have to put the connections to work. Some of the ways the panelists stated using the political relationship is by using social media, the news and even newspapers to get out a political message.
“When using a story in the newspaper to get attention for a political issue, retailers should make sure the person’s name is mentioned somewhere in the story so it can get the attention of whoever is going through that story for the mayor or governor,” said May. “Even though technology has advanced, there is still someone going through the newspapers for political figures.”
The 2023 NAG conference ends on March 29 with a working breakfast session, a general session and an Ideas boot camp.