Technology has been the primary driver in blurring the lines of what digital commerce is and how consumers interact with retailers—including a massive shift in expectations. The consequences for c-store operators have been both swift and dramatic. You no longer have to compete just with other c-stores. You now have to compete with large retailers, grocers, QSRs, and heightened consumer expectations in general.
Consumers have more choice than ever, and they’re great at leveraging the power of technology to decide how, when, and where they choose to interact with your brand. Yes, consumers can be fickle, and they’re certainly less loyal than they’ve ever been. Yet they expect more: more convenience, a frictionless experience, instant gratification, and even greater rewards for their loyalty.
That’s not surprising when you consider which companies are redefining the consumer experience. Innovation stalwarts like Starbucks, Walmart, and Amazon are the primary reason why c-store retailers must keep up with ever-changing consumer behaviors.
For example, Amazon completely redefined the online retail shopping experience and paved the way for premium paid loyalty. Starbucks smartly linked the payment experience to loyalty, resulting in a world-class consumer experience with payment options, personalization, and rewards—from mobile ordering to gamification. And digital transformation has been at the heart of that exceptional experience.
Loyalty’s Shifting Landscape
If you’re not participating in this transformation, consumers will quickly move on without you. But even if you know the future of convenience retail is digital, that doesn’t make your task any easier. You still need to understand consumer motivations, behaviors, and expectations in order to define your own digital strategy:
- What experiences do your customers want?
- Where should you focus your efforts?
- What tactics or strategies should you use?
- How do you know where to start?
As consumer loyalty programs have evolved from basic discounts (remember getting your card punched on your way to a free sandwich?) to truly differentiated experiences, how do you maximize engagement in a way that actively promotes customer loyalty?
Shoppers now expect a personalized experience in exchange for their loyalty to your brand. That’s one reason why the future of retail loyalty lies somewhere at the intersection of traditional loyalty programs and digital commerce, as part of a cohesive omnichannel experience.
Challenge or Opportunity? It’s up to You.
If you feel like the pressure to go digital is a bit overwhelming, try to think of it as an opportunity rather than a challenge. There are four key steps to simplifying your approach:
- Define a clear long-term vision and strategy for your business
- Determine how you can best optimize your existing assets, including people, data, and IT systems
- Identify where you can gain the most from investing in digital transformation (don’t simply chase the shiny object)
- Find the right solutions and the partners to help you implement them
Today, data plays an increasingly vital role in building brand loyalty. Because smart consumers understand the value of data, they expect more than just a simple discount program when they share their data with retailers. They expect more value and better experiences. And, if you can’t deliver, they may gravitate to competitors who will.
The key is to put your existing data to work for you. Start by investing in solutions that help you turn raw data into valuable business insights. Focus on consumer lifecycle and “RFM” metrics such as Recency (the last time you engaged with a customer), Frequency (how often your customer visits or conducts a transaction), and Monetary (how much money that customer is spending with you).
Collecting your own consumer data and tapping into a cloud-based platform loaded with industry analysis and insights can reveal all types of opportunity to enhance loyalty. For instance, you could make highly targeted offers, triggered real-time offers, and experienced-based offers—knowing when to deliver the right offer at the right time.
Bringing Convenience to Life
Building loyalty is all about connecting with consumers by delivering an experience that meets them where they are but also incentivizes them to move where you’d like them to go. You can bring convenience to life by positively disrupting their standard routines with a memorable experience that builds the foundation for increased loyalty.
It helps to think about loyalty less as a program and more as an outcome. If your ultimate goal is to get consumers to visit your stores more frequently with a larger basket spend, you must:
- Drive meaningful engagement through personalized experiences
- Create a complete engagement ecosystem built around loyalty
- Leverage data and insights to continually refine your loyalty offers
Even if they’re less brand-loyal, consumers will frequent your stores if you deliver the type of experience they value. Make it personal by combining the right digital commerce solutions with holistic loyalty programs that continue to keep them engaged. That just might be enough to keep your stores top of mind for them while your competitors are still trying to catch up.
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