For last year’s Spinxmas promotion, Spinx convenience stores offered members of its loyalty program one free candy item every week during December. The effort, supported by confectionery vendors, was so successful that according to Hayley Thrift, director of marketing and advertising, the chain’s Spinx Xtras loyalty initiative added 4,000 new members during the month. Moreover, the year-end loyalty reward promotion drove store traffic with many members purchasing items like bottled water and coffee when they came in for their free treats. “The promotion really resonated,” said Thrift, “and it didn’t take a lot on our end to implement.” A similar program will be offered later this year at the South Carolina-based chain, she added.
Similarly, at Onvo travel plazas in Pennsylvania and New York a “Free Coffee Friday” feature in February was a big contributor to enlisting members to the chain’s new Onvo Rewards program while building awareness about its bean-to-cup coffee machines. Onvo Rewards, launched in December in conjunction with the Onvo app, is “the start of a new chapter for us,” said Harman Aulakh, marketing manager. The new rewards program is “more dynamic” than the chain’s previous offer, he noted. “It provides more rewards based on customer shopping habits and preferences,” including frequent buyer clubs for items like coffee, the roller grill and fountain drinks. “Response has been better than expected, especially for the coffee club,” Aulakh said.
One of the goals of our loyalty program as we expand in foodservice is to get food into customers’ mouths and to keep them engaged with the program."
Like other trade channels, c-stores are finding that customer loyalty programs have become a necessity in the battle to stand out among competitors and retain valued shoppers. Increasingly, consumers expect the programs. According to Newsweek, the average U.S. household is enrolled in 18 different loyalty programs. And as c-store loyalty programs evolve, food and beverages are playing a bigger role than ever.
INCENTIVES AND BENEFITS
Discounts and even free food and beverage items are popular inducements of c-store loyalty programs. With 7-Eleven’s 7Rewards program earlier this year, for example, members could purchase any muffin and any size coffee for $2. Under Onvo’s frequent buyer clubs, meanwhile, after customers purchase five coffees, roller products or fountain drinks, they get the sixth item free. While members embrace the opportunity to save and be rewarded, the offers also provide retailers with higher customer visits and often important data and insights about shopper preferences and buying habits.
Food and beverage products can also play a role in getting consumers to join loyalty programs in the first place. Kum & Go’s &Rewards program recently added a “welcome bundle” for new registrants, Blaine Rourick, brand marketing manager, reported. The bundle of five items valued up to $10 features a slice of pizza, a bakery item, a piece of fruit, a small coffee and a 16-ounce packaged beverage. “Sign-up rewards are a tried-and-true way to entice loyalty participation, engage lapsed customers and start to gather information about consumers that you can use to begin the important process of building a 360-degree consumer profile,” remarked Lori Stout, vice president, marketing at Punchh, a loyalty and engagement platform that works with c-stores and restaurant operators.
With so many c-stores investing in foodservice today, loyalty programs are the perfect tool to drive awareness and purchases. According to Rourick, the &Rewards program will play “an integral part” in communicating with customers about Kum & Go’s new fresh food menu, as well as aiding the chain with knowing “what’s working and what’s the opportunity.” Added Ryan Lindley, vice president, digital technology, at Kum & Go, “One of the goals of our loyalty program as we expand in foodservice is to get food into customers’ mouths and to keep them engaged with the program.” Multiconcept operator GPM Investments also leverages foodservice as part of its fas Rewards program. According to Ruth Ann Lilly, vice president, merchandising and marketing, members can receive extra savings on items such as pizza, roller grill items, coffee and fountain drinks.
Indeed, Stout noted that customer loyalty initiatives can be impactful in getting members to try new food offers. “If you have a customer who purchases exclusively vegetarian items, send them an SMS or push notification to let them know about your new plant-based breakfast sandwich,” she advised. The programs can also provide exclusive foodservice offers to members, Stout continued. “Loyalty program members are the perfect audience to try new foodservice items before the general public,” she explained. “Not only does it offer an exclusive VIP experience to the program member, but it allows the brand to test new products or menu items to see if they will resonate before making a brand-wide investment.”
Another frequent tactic driving participation in c-store loyalty programs is partnering with food and beverage suppliers. “We’re seeing more c-store brands thinking about how they can use vendor funding from CPG partners as a key part of their loyalty programs,” said Jeff Hoover, director, c-store data insights, at Paytronix Systems Inc. Onvo, Kum & Go and Spinx have all tapped into these resources. At Onvo, which operates nearly three dozen travel plazas, beverage, candy and baked goods brands have been incorporated into its rewards program, Aulakh said. “When our category managers negotiate with vendors, there’s often promotional dollars involved,” Kum & Go’s Lindley noted, some of which can be used toward loyalty programming. And taking that support one step further, the chain often tries to offer “bundle promotions with our own products as part of a larger collaboration,” he said.
Loyalty program members are the perfect audience to try new foodservice items before the general public.”
For consumers, the benefits of using a retailer’s loyalty program include reduced prices and free items. For merchants, the rewards come in the way of data and insights about individual shopper’s purchasing habits and preferences. “We’re using artificial intelligence to better understand the shopping habits of our marketable members and to nurture them to drive both trips and baskets,” said GPM’s Lilly. While many other c-stores have yet to fully analyze and act upon the data,
the opportunity is vast, particularly when it comes to personalizing offers and incentives for members. “Because loyalty program data tracks preferences, patterns and locations, brands can leverage past buying behaviors to decide which food and beverage items to offer as an incentive,” said Stout. Hoover added that Paytronix, which provides loyalty program software to retailers, is able to create AI-driven recommendation engines from loyalty program data that “are similar to what tech companies like Netflix and Amazon do when they serve up suggestions for retail items or videos.” With the AI trained on historical data, programmers can identify the category from which a customer is most likely to buy next, he explained, as well as understand what he or she is unlikely to buy. So, if a customer typically purchases gas, coffee and a pack of gum, salty snacks, for example, could be the category suggestion, he said.
Personalized messages are even being utilized in real time at point of sale. Stout notes that the Huck’s convenience chain, via its loyalty app, offers “personalized messaging at the fuel pump” via text messaging or push notifications. “A customer could receive a message to come in now and get 50 cents off a soda or coffee,” she explained.
While Thrift said that Spinx isn’t yet personalizing offers to its 45,000 Xtras members, that is a goal of the program. The chain can ascertain “which customers respond to offers for a free bag of M&Ms, for example, versus a free energy drink,” she said. “The data is helping to provide insights into the habits and preferences of our customers.” Given the current environment, Thrift cautioned that any customer loyalty promotion with food and beverage tie-ins requires retailers to remain flexible. “With so many supply-chain issues these days, when planning a promotion, we have to be cognizant of food item availability,” she said.
Despite any short-term challenges, convenience retailers and loyalty program experts see long-term opportunity to gain knowledge about consumers and target their specific needs and preferences. “The more we know about customers, the smarter we can be about marketing to them and helping to grow the business,” noted Hoover. Thrift couldn’t agree more. “Customers expect you to know their names and habits,” said the Spinx executive. “Now, as we’re coming out of the pandemic, it’s even more important. Personalization will separate the winning programs from all others,” she said.