NACS 2019 Report – Taking Your Customer Loyalty Strategy Mobile

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By: Wise Marketer Staff |

Posted on October 2, 2019

If you've never attended the NACS Show, you're missing out. The National Association of Convenience Stores holds one of the largest gatherings in the retail industry, bringing together over 20,000 attendees who benefit from a rich educational program and the opportunity to experience the latest in foodservice, technology, and equipment in a 400,000+ft² exhibition area. 

Bill Hanifin, President Hanifin Loyalty by Impact 21 and Managing Editor of the Wise Marketer had the opportunity to moderate a panel yesterday titled "Taking your Customer Loyalty Strategy Mobile". The session gathered together three retailers from well-known convenience store brands to talk about how each is using the mobile channel to engage customers and create stronger more profitable relationships. Some people would call that creating customer loyalty. Whatever you call it, the retailers from Cumberland Farms, MAPCO, and Yesway shared their stories of how they introduced the mobile platform as a principal communications channels for their loyalty programs and how their organizations have benefited by growing their pool of higher value customers. 

On the panel were David Heilbronner, Director of Brand Strategy and Advertising at Cumberland Farms, Bobbe Morhiser, Senior Manager Guest Experience MAPCO, and Darrin Samaha, Yesway’s VP of Marketing.

Bill got the discussion started by sharing some statistics that left no doubt as to why marketers should be focused on making headway in the mobile channel. He shared that:

  • 77% of American adults own a smartphone.
  • People are now spending about 3 hours 43 minutes each day on their phones. That's equivalent to roughly 15% of your entire day, and if you sleep 8 hours a night, it’s about 23% on average of your waking time.
  • Our phones are loaded with an average of 80 apps, though people typically only use less than 50% of those apps on a regular basis.
  • And what do we do with those phones? Among other activities, 58.5% of internet searches were mobile, endorsing why many say that the mobile screen is our first screen.
  • People read almost half (49.1%) of all emails on mobile devices.

Not only have CMO's been convinced that mobile is becoming the first screen of the consumer, but they've heard through research that the number one priority for consumers over the next 12 months is to seek out trusted relationships with their favorite brands. The growth in consumer interest to establish a trusted relationship grew at a faster rate than their desire for Product Quality, Price, and Superior Service.

CMO's have noticed these trends and are funneling more spend towards mobile loyalty programs. Investment in mobile has increased from 3.2% in 2015 to 11.2% in 2019 and is expected to grow to 19.1% over the next five years.

Bill posed the question of "How do you build Trusted Relationships?" and offered three elements that might form the equation to build trust:

  1. Communicate in the channel preferred most by your customers
  2. Personalize messages as much as your data permits
  3. Seek to continually improve your Customer Experience

Bobbe Morhiser picked up the pace from there, talking about the journey that MAPCO Express, a regional leader in c-store retail, engaged to develop its strategy to take MAPCO MY Reward$ mobile and turn it into a critical driver for marketing and new customer acquisition. MAPCO has a straightforward approach to developing customer loyalty by "focusing on the guest and keeping it simple".

The earliest version of the MAPCO mobile app provided information about the guest's loyalty program status, shared fuel prices, and enabled a mobile payment option for purchases at MAPCO sites. The company thought it knew what customers wanted through a loyalty program, but was wise in executing market research to confirm preferences.

Ms. Morhiser shared that "what the customer wants" centered on three points:

  1. Saving time and money
  2. Being rewarded for their patronage
  3. Being made to "feel good"

MAPCO knew that to get the level of engagement and continued usage they desired, it needed to establish a stable and reliable technology platform. Apps are easy to build and launch, but the reliability of operation is key to creating trust across the customer base, according to Ms. Morhiser. Building on this stable platform, MAPCO could concentrate on introducing a range of creative offers, including the opportunity for customers to donate to a charity of their choice.

To connect the dots with customers at the point-of-sale, MAPCO placed a priority on training its team members to become enthusiastic advocates of MAPCO My Rewards. The strategy for MAPCO paid off as Ms. Morhiser concluded by sharing these improvements in key metrics over a recent period:

  • Registrations increased 8%
  • Active members increased by 22%
  • Redemptions were up by 113%

Yesway Rewards is the customer loyalty program for the fast growing brand that is Yesway. Launched in 2015 by private equity firm Brookwood Financial Partners, Yesway has over 150 locations across the Midwest and South — and has set its sights on acquiring and rebranding over 500 stores in the next few years.

Darrin Samaha shared his journey in planning and launching Yesway Rewards, and it wasn't easy. A first approach did not meet with the reception expected from the customer base, but the persistence in listening to customers led to a second wave of launch that has resulted in tremendous success. The Yesway approach to customer loyalty included these steps:

  1. Design the program to be fun and easy to use, with only "useful" friction present to drive engagement
  2. Develop an "inside out" strategy where inside store sales were the primary focus followed by fuel discounts
  3. Lean on supplier support by aligning with "category captains" that shared Yesway's passion for growth
  4. Focus on Customer Engagement, going beyond the app with communications in other channels as well as in the store
  5. Be willing to test, and test again, with the goal to create an exceptional customer experience

Yesway has met with great success as result of its approach. Mr. Samaha said that 46 percent of Yesway Rewards members have downloaded the mobile loyalty app, a 14 percent increase since relaunch. Gamification campaigns that focused on a "Spin to Win" game generated over 20 "spins" each from over 9,000 participating members. The most impressive indicator of success shared was that Customer Lifetime Value had seen a 27.5% lift since the relaunch. 

Looking ahead, Yesway is launching its mobile payment feature YesPay, which will enable program members to activate pumps, earn fuel discounts, and make payment from a mobile wallet that provides the options of private label debit (ACH), gift card, PayPal, and Venmo. 

David Heilbronner, Director of Brand Strategy and Advertising at Cumberland Farms shared how he applied his experience from retail outside of the Convenience and Fuel industry to impact the Cumberland Farms mobile loyalty initiative. Dave previously worked in the QSR world, with time at Burger King and Dunkin’ Donuts.

David shared the journey that started in 2013 at Cumberland Farms when it launched SmartPay as a payment, not loyalty app. This ACH payment program saved transaction processing costs for Cumberland Farms while delivering a $.10 per gallon discount to customers who signed up. The first version of the app also rewarded customers with a free drink for every 30 gallons of fuel purchased and peppered coupons for product offers in the mobile wallet. 

While the "loyalty hook" was the fuel discount in the beginning, Cumberland witnessed engagement levels increasing and participation with the app on the rise across its customer base. In June 2019, it took additional steps to evolve SmartPay into more of a loyalty-centered app by introducing "members only" deals, more product based clubs, a Coffee "Cup-Scription" feature, and more.

The look and feel of the Cumberland Farms app has continued to develop, with the most recent release showcasing a modern, grid display that clearly communicates benefits and provides access to important features. Always important is to let program members know how they have benefited from their participation; and, the "Lifetime Savings" number at the top of the app is a strong reinforcement of why customers should keep coming back and use the app to make purchases at Cumberland Farms stores, inside and out.

Mr. Heilbronner said that customers had provided strong and positive feedback on the new app design since its relaunch in June 2019 and that the program had seen a significant increase in SmartPay enrollments. The Cup-Scription was also seeing early success with increasing enrollments for coffee loving customers.

The panel wrapped up by offering 3 key takeaways from the discussion and some questions and answers. The 3 key takeaways were as follows:

  1. A central aspect of your mobile strategy must be developing a reason for customers to download, open, and use the app
  2. Features like order-ahead, payment, and fuel discounts can create the incentives needed for engagement
  3. Training is key-important to make sure employees understand the program to help customers

This panel discussion on Taking your Customer Loyalty Strategy Mobile was just one among a full day of educational sessions at NACS 2019. We'll have more to report on this powerful conference as it continues.