Convenience Retailers & Loyalty Providers open the Kimono at the 2018 CSP Loyalty Forum

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By: Bill Hanifin, CLMP™ |

Posted on April 9, 2018

Key convenience and fuel retailers pair with leading loyalty providers to unpack important challenges facing the industry

By Bill Hanifin

It is rare to be encounter a conference event where retailers and providers gather to exchange perspectives on the core areas of concern in their industry. The 2018 CSP Loyalty Forum provided just this opportunity and I came away with new insights into the future of the Petroleum and Convenience Retail (PCR) industry.

The event was sponsored by Winsight Media, the premier B2B media company serving this fast-growing industry. The event last week, held in Chicago, was the second CSP Loyalty Forum and the proceedings had the feel of a much more seasoned event.

The format was composed of a series of talks given by a nearly equal component of retail executives and thought leaders from the loyalty provider community serving this industry. The providers represented in the room included Excentus, Hatch Loyalty, KickBack Rewards, Lil Drug Store Products, Nestle, Outsite Networks, Paytronix, Premium Nutrition and Zipline.

The over-arching themes of the day focused on keeping the loyalty experience simple for customers to understand, using the data collected by retailers in more efficient ways and recognizing that the profile of the convenience store customer has dramatically changed over the years.

To that last point, Kristen Bailey, Zipline CMO shared that the traditional portrayal of the convenience customer has morphed over the years. “I don’t really believe in the phantom of Bubba” she said, continuing by emphasizing that the narrow profile of a blue-collar male stopping in for gas, cigarettes and beer was grossly outdated. Today’s customer is just as likely to be a little league coach, a working mom or road warrior seeking a respite and quick coffee during a busy day.

“Today’s customer is just as likely to be a little league coach, a working mom or road warrior seeking a respite and quick coffee during a busy day.”

To better serve this diversifying set of customers, Robert Byrne, senior manager of consumer insights for data firm Technomic, a subsidiary of Winsight, said service is the most influential factor in today’s convenience store visit experience, and that building trust through good service can make the difference for any retailer. Byrne stated “It’s the same thing with any relationship, it takes time. It takes trust and consistency.”

The highest order of priority to create an effective loyalty is to start simple, according to Ernie Harker, executive director of CREATE for Salt Lake City-based Maverik.  Zipline’s Bailey agreed, saying “If you’re trying to trick them into doing anything, it’s a no-go, you’re going to be pushing rope uphill.”

Harker also emphasized that having the right strategy for customer loyalty is the key to success. With due respect to a room full of providers who each would readily tout the advantages of their delivery models, Harker said “Loyalty programs are like NASCAR, it’s not about the car, it’s about the driver". He elaborated for me later that it was “not so important to have a completely unique loyalty platform, but it is important to put that platform into use in the way that best serves your brand”.

“Loyalty programs are like NASCAR, it’s not about the car, it’s about the driver."

I had the opportunity to present 5 Trends for Loyalty Marketing in 2018 that the PCR industry should use to guide its planning. One of these trends was “The value of customer data has never been higher or its future value at higher risk”.

In sum, the essence of this trend is that retailers have collected massive stores of customer data, while underperforming in their use of this same data. Maverik’s Harker pointed out the importance of efficient data use to build customer loyalty, saying “without loyalty data, there is no tool to create a market for them; they all get the same message.

I commented further that Customers don’t understand what they are getting in return for sharing their data, saying “we’ve worn people out by collecting so much data because we haven’t brought it out to them in a usable form”. Without improvement in marketing efficiency, consumers will punish brands by restricting the amount and quality of data shared in the future.

Special thanks to Christine Lavelle and her team at Winsight Media for putting on a great show in Chicago.

Bill Hanifin is CEO of The Wise Marketer and is a Certified Loyalty Marketing Professional (CLMP).