Convenience stores are no stranger to customer loyalty concerns. Unlike traditional retailers, convenience stores are pit stops for shoppers. They serve as an on-the-go destination for everyday goods such as snacks, drinks, and fuel. Nearly all c-stores have loyalty programs, but are they living up to the name? Are they…convenient?
Creating a customer loyalty program for convenience stores requires a strategic approach that can overcome some of the most common challenges. And, when it’s all said and done, you want your program to drive customer engagement. If you’re looking for the how – you’ve come to the right place.
Why Customer Loyalty is Important for Convenience Stores
Let’s start with the basics. Customer loyalty is critical for any business, but convenience stores shine a particularly bright spotlight on this issue. Why? The rise of online shopping and e-commerce leaves convenience stores facing more competition than ever before. The pandemic was no help either, causing significant changes in consumer behavior, including an even greater exodus to the online marketplace.
So, what can you do?
Create. Loyal. Customers.
Loyal customers mean repeat business, higher sales, and more word-of-mouth referrals. Loyalty member customers are willing to spend 38% more on average than their non-loyalty counterparts. They’re also far more likely to forgive the occasional customer experience slip-up and they’re more open to trying new products or services. Convenience store rewards programs provide a myriad of benefits for both members and business owners, all of which align to ensure repeat customers and an enhanced purchase experience.
Biggest Loyalty & Retention Challenges for Convenience Stores
We know that you’re looking for how to increase convenience store sales, not just ways to get customers into your store. You know the saying: “sometimes the best defense is a good offense.”
C-store loyalty programs are just that – an offensive tactic that goes right at the consumer. You need to engage, build leverage, and differentiate in one fell swoop. Because the truth is that you’re facing some tough competition. Let’s take a look.
Your engagement window is small.
Perhaps the most significant hurdle convenience stores face when building customer loyalty is the limited time customers spend in-store. Whether it’s a fuel retailer or a local c-store – consumers want to be in and out fast. It’s called a “convenience” store after all, and customers are looking for a quick an easy experience.
Well, convenience stores need to find ways to match that pace by quickly engaging customers to keep them coming back. Recent studies have shown that 85.5% of loyalty programs have a strong impact on customer retention. Creating fast and effortless experiences that limit the amount of time customers need to spend filling out membership forms or looking for payment is key.
Relationship-building is tough
Customer engagement plays a vital role in the convenience store model. It’s an incredibly transactional environment, but the opportunity for a relationship-based model is massive in this ecosystem. For convenience stores to succeed, adaption is crucial, and there needs to be a shift to a more emotional connection with customers through retention marketing strategies. These loyalty programs for convenience stores come in many shapes and forms:
- Frequent buyer programs
- Customer engagement programs
- Personalized offers
Difficult to differentiate
The cost of customer acquisition is also a massive challenge for convenience stores. With so many options for purchasing everyday essentials, convenience stores need to find a way to differentiate themselves and provide added value to customers without increasing prices. This is where loyalty programs come in. The low margin landscape of convenience stores can limit reward options. Personalized offers that leverage AI/ML technologies create opportunities for c-stores, as they’re able to build truly unique customer experiences for their customers.
So, where do you start? Let’s dive deeper.
The 5 Best Types of Customer Loyalty Programs for Convenience Stores
There are plenty of c-store loyalty programs out there. That’s the good news. You have options, and your business can personalize its reward strategies and retention marketing efforts to match your company’s objectives. For now, here are five of the most effective types of customer retention programs for convenience stores.
1. Points-based programs: This is the most common type of loyalty program for convenience stores. Customers earn points for purchases and can redeem those points for rewards such as free products or discounts.
2. Tiered programs: This type of convenience store loyalty program rewards customers based on their loyalty level. As customers make more purchases, they move up tiers and earn better perks.
3. VIP programs: These convenience store rewards programs are designed to reward high-spending customers with exclusive benefits such as early access to new products, continuous discounts, and personalized offers.
4. Subscription programs: Subscription programs offer customers a discounted price on products or services in exchange for a recurring payment. This customer retention strategy is particularly effective for convenience stores that can offer discounted product prices for customers who subscribe to their program.
5. Hybrid programs: A combination of the above convenience store loyalty programs can also be used to create a unique loyalty strategy that suits your needs. This is your convenience store’s time to shine, creating a unique customer experience with personalized offers.
Key Loyalty Program Features for Convenience Stores and Fuel Retailers
Now, you’ve gotten to see what types of loyalty programs for convenience stores are available – but how can you make them work for you? Not all loyalty programs are created equal. Creating effective ways to get customers into your store and retain them requires the right ingredients.
- Easy sign-up process: Convenience is key, so make the sign-up process for loyalty programs quick and simple. 68% of consumers will join a brand’s loyalty or VIP program if prompted – so make signing up easy to ensure a seamless customer experience.
- Personalization: Customers want to feel valued, so personalize the rewards and offers based on their shopping history.
- Gamification: Make your customer journey exciting through gamification. Loyalty gamification is your chance to get creative with your convenience store loyalty programs, allowing you to build engagement outside the store with competitive leaderboards, point systems, level-up opportunities, and various ways to incentivize continued patronage.
- Mobile integration: Convenience stores should invest in mobile apps that allow customers to interact with their loyalty programs on their smartphones. Over 57% of loyalty members prefer to interact with their program via mobile devices.
- Real-time reporting: Analytics are the lifeblood of any successful loyalty program. Actionable customer insights fuel your convenience store rewards programs. They offer an opportunity to fine-tune customer engagement and clarify customer behavior insights so that you can leverage data to fine-tune your marketing efforts. Plus, you can utilize first-party data from your loyalty program to cross-sell products and services. It’s a win/win.
Implement these c-store loyalty tools and mechanics -- and you’ll be well on your way to building a program that works for your business. One final piece of advice that every loyalty program can benefit from is to collect customer feedback. Incorporate surveys into your c-store loyalty program and gain access invaluable lessons from your customers. They’ll tell you their pain points and issues with the platform, allowing you to make much-needed adjustments to keep customers happy and coming back for more.
Examples of Loyalty Programs for C-Stores
Sometimes, the best way to learn a successful customer loyalty program for convenience stores is to see it in action. So, sit back, relax – and let us walk you through some real-world examples of loyalty programs done right.
Easy Rewards (Circle K)
Circle K is one of the largest convenience store operations – but it didn’t start that way. Nearly 60 years ago, its founder purchased just three small food stores in Texas. Before long, the Circle K brand made its way to New Mexico and Arizona – and eventually went international. Today, many of its patrons are Circle K Easy Rewards members – a loyalty program built around points-per-gallon and points-per-purchase in the convenience store.
All around the globe, 7-Eleven is a household name. Their rewards program, 7Rewards, began as an exclusive digital stamp card for their infamous Slurpees. Today, this convenience store loyalty program has expanded to earn customers points for every purchase. (excluding age-restricted and fuel items). These points can then be used for free food and drinks in the future.
Exxon Mobil Rewards+
ExxonMobil is a global energy provider that houses over 10,000 fueling stations in the US alone. With the help of Comarch’s innovative loyalty platform, their rewards program, Exxon Mobil Rewards+ has saved members over $175M. For every 100 points members earn, they get $1 in savings to use on fuel, convenience store items, and car washes.
How Else Can You Improve Customer Loyalty for Your Convenience Store?
Creating a customer loyalty program is just one part of the equation when it comes to improving customer loyalty for convenience stores. Here are seven additional strategies that convenience stores can implement to enhance customer loyalty and retention:
Provide Exceptional Customer Service
Customer service is crucial in creating a positive shopping experience and building customer loyalty. Train employees to greet customers warmly, answer their questions, and address any issues promptly and professionally. Encourage staff to go above and beyond to help customers, such as carrying heavy items to their car or offering suggestions for items they may like based on their past purchases.
Create a Welcoming Atmosphere
Convenience stores should aim to create a welcoming and comfortable atmosphere that encourages customers to spend more time in-store. This can include investing in comfortable seating, creating a designated area for customers to enjoy their purchases, and keeping the store clean and organized.
Offer a Wide Variety of Products
Customers value convenience and appreciate having access to a wide variety of products in one location. Convenience stores should stock a diverse range of products, including snacks, drinks, household essentials, and personal care items, to meet the needs of all customers. They should also regularly rotate their inventory and introduce new products to keep customers interested and engaged.
Utilize Social Media
Social media is a powerful tool for building customer loyalty and engagement. Convenience stores can use social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to share promotions, new products, and store updates. They can also use these platforms to interact with customers, respond to feedback, and share user-generated content.
Offer Contactless Payment Options
The pandemic has accelerated the shift toward contactless payments, and customers now expect to have the option to pay using their mobile devices or credit cards. Convenience stores should invest in contactless payment options such as Apple Pay, Google Wallet, and mobile apps to provide a convenient and safe shopping experience.
Host Events and Promotions
Hosting events and promotions is an effective way to increase foot traffic and build customer loyalty. Convenience stores can host events such as tastings, live music, or charity fundraisers to create a unique and memorable experience for customers. They can also offer promotions such as buy-one-get-one-free deals, free gifts with purchases, or loyalty point multipliers to incentivize customers to shop more frequently.
Solicit Customer Feedback
Soliciting customer feedback is critical in understanding customer needs and preferences. Convenience stores should encourage customers to provide feedback through surveys, online reviews, or social media. They should also use this feedback to make improvements to their store, products, and services, showing customers that their opinions matter and building loyalty in the process.
How Comarch Can Help
Our loyalty management solutions have helped shape customer experiences for some of the world’s most prestigious brands, including BP, Exxon Mobil, and more. We provide all of the tools, integrations, and automation needed to boost conversions and maximize your ROI.
Don’t believe us? Check out The Forrester Wave report on loyalty technology.
Build your loyalty program today with the help of our expert team and improve your customer experience to create a more gamified journey. The customer might always be right, but now they can be a winner too.