Buying gasoline to fuel our vehicles is like paying our utility or water bills each month. The fuel is essential to smooth enjoyment of our daily lives and we are resigned to budget a certain amount of money in our budget for this necessary expense. So, anytime we can gain a slight price advantage at the gas pump, we experience some low-level joy in the process.
Fuel retailers have used gas discounts as a core part of their marketing mix for decades, but they aren’t going to give away a few cents per gallon without asking for something in return. The question is, what would you give up for a few cents per gallon? Would you be willing to apply for a charge card that can only be used at the gas station? Would you be willing to give up personal shopping data? Or, would you be willing to connect your checking account to your loyalty program to earn a bigger discount?
The answer is that “it depends” on the price of gas itself. When gas prices surge over $3/gallon, the pinch to your wallet becomes noticeable. In 2011 – 2012 gas prices surged to nearly $4/gallon. Today, they hover in the $2-3 dollar range for most of the country.
When gas prices spike historically high levels, (2011-2012) consumers panic. They reevaluate their love for high powered vehicles with poor gas mileage and gripe constantly about how fuel costs impact the family budget. But let gas prices sag to a more comfortable area where they exist today, in the $2 neighborhood, and perspectives change quickly. People lose their fear of budget-busting gas prices and return to purchase SUV’s and other gas guzzling vehicles. We are currently in the cycle of lower fuel prices and the ten best-selling vehicles in the US during 2018 were mostly trucks and SUV’s.
In my neighborhood, I saw an offer of a ten cent per gallon discount from Cumberland Farms. That caught my attention. With gas prices where they are today, that’s about a 4-5% savings. “All I had to do” (we’ll get back to this) to take advantage of the benefit was to download an app to my mobile device, open a loyalty account, and connect my checking account to the loyalty program. Each time I go to purchase fuel, I could use the app to turn on the gas pump and fill my tank. Payment for the fuel would come directly out of my checking account and I earn my ten cents per gallon discount.
I’ve been playing this game with Cumberland Farms for over 3 years and I continue to play for several reasons:
- The systems work, meaning of all the trips our family has made to a Cumberland Farms location, the app properly identifies our location, activates the pump and fills the tank. We’ve only encountered a technical issue once or twice in this three-year period. What more can you demand from technology? Because this system works, my purchase experiences are friction-free, and expectations are met.
- Cumberland Farms has continually improved the mobile app that is the main point of engagement with the Smart Pay program. The user experience has changed a few times, and, in my opinion, the changes have improved my experience with the program in each new version. The current version shows me my “lifetime savings” in the program, a constant reminder of how valuable the program has been for me.
- In addition to saving money on fuel, Smart Pay reward me with free drinks and other deals on a regular basis. Since our family shares in this program, sometimes all I get as a “reward” is a picture of someone else enjoying their liter of Core bottle water, a coffee, or Red Bull, but that’s ok. We’ll all in this together.
Back to the comment about “all I had to do” to enroll in this program. Maybe because we’re all loyalty geeks at the Wise Marketer, I was willing to give it a try. I was cautious about the security aspect of linking a mobile transaction to my checking account, but the app is PIN protected, and location based. The entire process is highly secure, but it’s also true that most of the public still prefer to pay for gas with their favorite airline, hotel, or cash-back credit card. Each to their own.
I only have one caution about the Smart Pay program. Once or twice a year, I receive an email from Cumberland Farms informing me of “good news”. The message is usually something like “Smart Pay Rewards is now extended through December 31, 2019”.
I’m not sure how to receive this message. Every loyalty program has a “right to cancel” clause in its Terms and Conditions, but this is the only program I’ve ever encountered that takes time to notify me via email that the program will continue. That message steals a bit of my joy as a participant as I immediately wonder if the program is on thin ice.
Cumberland Farms Smart Pay offers a solid value proposition to me and the technology works. If the company would fine tune some of its customer communications, they might be in the “loyalty hall of fame” for this loyalty geek.