For decades, the main selling point of convenience stores has been, well, convenience. They’re the places right down the street where you go when you’re out of milk, need to fill up your gas tank or decide, against all reason and judgment, that you simply must have mint chocolate chip ice cream at 10:45 p.m.
Serving utilitarian purposes is all well and good, but these stores do little to quicken the pulse (with the possible exception of the ice cream thing). But increasingly, convenience stores are leveraging the personalized, location-based features of mobile applications to draw customers in with special offers and other incentives designed to boost traffic, sales and customer loyalty.
Over at Convenience Store News, managing editor Brian Berk reports on his publication’s 2016 Technology Study. The study found that 47 percent of chain convenience stores “now offer a mobile app, a solid 8 percentage-point increase compared to last year, and a robust 18 percentage-point increase compared to two years ago” (when only 29 percent of “c-store” operators offered a mobile app).
One good example of how a c-store enterprise is using mobile apps is Casey’s General Stores Inc., an Iowa-based chain with more than 1,900 stores in 14 Midwestern states. Casey’s launched an app last spring that offers mobile users exclusive coupons, monthly promotions and pizza specials, online ordering, gas prices, email signup, social media check-ins and a feedback function.
Those last three features in particular, as well as its presence on Facebook, Instagram and other social media, are designed to extend the c-store’s relationship with customers in a way that resonates with Millennials. While this doesn’t necessarily mean someone will ever book a wedding at a Casey’s store, over time these personalized and location-based customer “touches” result in more visits to stores and increased sales.
There are plenty of other examples.
Wawa, another regional c-store chain with nearly 700 locations in the mid-Atlantic states and central Florida, offers a mobile app linked to an incentive program that enables customers to earn rewards for spending money using a Wawa gift card tied to their account.
And international c-store chain 7-Eleven, with more than 56,000 locations in 18 countries, offers a mobile app that includes a barcode that customers can use at checkout to earn free cups of coffee along with discounts on 7-Eleven and partner products.
By adding incentive and opportunity to their historical value proposition — convenience — c-stores are using mobile technology to deepen ties with their customers, creating greater loyalty and boosting bottom lines over the long term. That’s something most businesses can learn from.