Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Food, Foodservice, Grocerant, Sales Technology Required


Regular readers of this blog know that Steven Johnson Grocerant Guru® at Tacoma, WA based Foodservice Solutions® can hardly work his iPhone but he has pontificated time and time again on this blog on the value that technology can bring to your retail food establishment.  Today we want to share the on the value that an integrated e-commerce app can bring you company written by Kathleen Furore.  Here it is:

Mobile integration. It is something convenience store operators must focus on as they strive to build a seamless omnichannel shopping experience — one that will engage customers, build brand loyalty and communicate the specific brand message the retailer wants to convey, according to Meghan Wang, strategist for strategy and analytics at Newton, Mass.-based Paytronix, a provider of SaaS customer experience management solutions for c-stores and restaurants.

For Eric Rush, director of marketing for Tri Star Energy, the Nashville, Tenn.-based parent company of Twice Daily convenience stores, an integrated mobile app is more than just an option, it is a necessity — and one that Twice Daily has embraced.

“In order to even be considered as a destination during key times of the day, today’s c-stores need to include some form of alternative ordering, if not all of them,” Rush stressed. “For our loyal guests, our app has essentially taken on the role of the storefront or forecourt. It is the first thing they see when they are considering us as their breakfast, lunch or snack destination.”

Mobile integration, of course, does so much more than just drive foodservice sales.

“An integrated e-commerce app will provide guests a simple way to engage with your brand and streamline their purchases. An integrated app optimizes inventory management through real-time data on stock levels,” Wang explained. “It enhances customer experience through tailored promotions and loyalty programs, and it can provide meaningful data back to the business on customer behavior to help shape more personalized marketing strategies in the future.”

Optimizing Your Guest Engagement Strategy

Before a convenience retailer can deliver a brand message, collect data and ultimately build long-term loyalty, they have to be able to reach customers where they are, at any time of day. Today, that “where” is on a mobile device — which means a store’s mobile app should play a critical role in the retailer’s digital guest engagement strategy.

As Wang noted, there are myriad benefits that mobile apps deliver from a customer engagement perspective. 

“Apps enable stores to send targeted notifications about promotions, new arrivals or special events directly to customers’ phones. Operationally, they allow for a streamlined experience in which customers may utilize mobile payments and track order fulfillment,” she said. “The app can also collect valuable data on customer behavior, preferences and purchase history, which can then inform more personalized recommendations and tailored offers, making customers feel valued and understood. Finally, stores can incorporate gamification elements within the app, such as quizzes or challenges, to engage customers and encourage more frequent interaction with the brand.”

Yatco Energy, the Northborough, Mass.-based operator of 20 convenience stores throughout New England, recognized the important role mobile apps play when it was in the early stages of building its digital presence. The company’s mobile app “has been our first step toward having a digital presence,” said Yatco Vice President Hussein Yatim. “It stemmed from the company growing regionally here in New England and really trying to push the Yatco brand and presence to consumers.”

Twice Daily’s app is also key to engaging customers, according to Rush, who said the company “has taken on a significant increase in our digital strategy over the last 12 months.” 

Upgrading the company’s mobile app experience with the help of the new Mobile Experience Builder from Paytronix was an important step in refining that strategy, which also included “a total redesign of all of our websites and increased organizational focus on the loyalty program and mobile ordering,” he said.

The Mobile Experience Builder is a self-service tool that enables brands of all sizes to publish content in real time to their mobile apps — something that previously had been possible only for companies with the resources to invest heavily in custom mobile app development.

“With this focus on creating a stronger value proposition and finding ways to ensure the guests are aware of that value, we have strengthened our ability to communicate through other channels like SMS, email, social and other digital platforms,” Rush added.

Delivering Your Brand Message

What role does a mobile app play in delivering the specific brand message a c-store wants to convey? According to Wang, it provides a platform for consistent branding, personalized interactions, storytelling and engagement.

A well-designed app — one that is easy to navigate and use — reflects positively on the brand and creates “a strong and lasting impression of the brand” by providing unique value to the customer, she said. “Stores can communicate their message and engage with guests through customized content, push notifications, and in-app surveys or feedback opportunities.”

Yatim shared that Yatco’s mobile app has played “a very significant role in delivering the Yatco brand message,” which has been especially important because the company co-brands its fuel with major oil companies.

“From the consumer perspective, it sometimes isn’t clear what the brand is since our c-store is Yatco and our gas brand is another brand. The app has helped customers know that we are differentiated, and that starts in the store,” Yatim said. “We have used a variety of strategies to communicate our brand and the value it provides to customers. We have run various campaigns that give customers substantial discounts on gas or free items in-store relatively easily. That has helped position Yatco as a brand that is competitive and creative with what we offer. … As more and more consumers sign up on the app and become frequent users, it promotes brand visibility and recognition.”

Since implementing its more robust digital strategy, Twice Daily also has used its app in several ways to communicate its brand promise. 

“The biggest change we made was to bring Member Pricing offers into the app through a web view. This has allowed us to display all of the member prices, along with contest information and new items/LTO [limited-time offers] without having to stick to any app limitations,” Rush explained. “It has also allowed us to use that link as a call to action for other digital/social advertising to show potential guests what types of offers and campaigns we run without them first having to download the app.

“When the guests are believers in your brand promise and trust you, they are far more likely to allow your app to take valuable space on their phones,” he observed. 

Building Brand Loyalty

Top loyalty guests overwhelmingly represent the highest spenders and most frequent visitors, according to the “2022 Paytronix Annual Loyalty Report.” As c-store shoppers increasingly demand that loyalty be accessible through easy-to-use mobile apps, it’s not hard to see why giving customers a way to interact with your loyalty program via an app is so important to bottom-line success today. 

“Through a combination of convenience, personalization, rewards and engagement, a well-crafted app will keep customers closely connected to the brand,” Wang explained. “By creating an efficient ecosystem, it will not only make shopping easier, but also help foster a deeper emotional bond between the customer and the brand.”

Wang noted that many brands rely on third-party apps to handle things like online ordering, but she cautioned that this isn’t the best way to engender loyalty.

“While the third parties are great for bringing in new customers, they stand between your brand and your customers. Building brand affinity means having your own place on your guest’s phone — then, they come directly to you,” she said. “But you also want to build in incentives to own this real estate, which could mean special offers, discounts or items that aren’t available through the third parties.”

This kind of customization is something Twice Daily anticipates offering in the near future.

“The further we get into the digital transformation, the greater our ability is,” Rush said. “We will be able to create a customized app approach for each guest based on their habits, their likes and what motivates them to continue coming to our stores.”

Unleashing the Potential of Mobile Application Management

In today’s dynamic convenience store landscape, staying ahead demands more than just offering quality products and services. It means understanding consumer behavior and delivering personalized experiences. Convenience stores must control their own digital experience through the mobile device to make this work. 

Modern consumers have come to expect an effortless shopping experience that transcends physical boundaries. That’s why an integrated e-commerce app has evolved from being a competitive advantage to a fundamental necessity. 

By integrating real-time updates, personalized promotions and tailored messaging into their mobile apps, c-stores can deliver a great digital brand experience and gain valuable insights into customer behavior. The competitive edge is in the integration of a complete guest engagement solution through the mobile app.

Personalization: The Crux of Engagement

Beyond wanting it easy, customers want it to be personal, especially from those few apps they choose to keep on their phones. To connect with customers effectively, convenience stores must do more than just offer an app — they need to make sure it works smoothly with their digital guest engagement systems like online ordering, loyalty and CRM. 

By using data about what customers like and what they buy, convenience stores can suggest products and deals that truly matter to customers. This not only encourages people to use the app, but also lets stores send them special messages and offers that are just right for that guest. It’s all about making customers feel important and understood.

A mobile app transcends its role as a digital storefront; it becomes an extension of the brand itself. To this end, consistent branding, personalized interactions and storytelling are crucial. A well-designed app that aligns with the brand’s identity reflects positively on the business. Through customized content, push notifications, and in-app surveys or feedback channels, companies can effectively communicate their message, enhancing brand recognition and loyalty.

More than just an e-commerce tool, a mobile app that offers convenience, personalization, rewards and engagement enables c-stores to create an efficient ecosystem that not only simplifies shopping, but also nurtures a deeper emotional bond between customer and brand.

Taking Ownership of the Customer Experience

Of course, customers have many choices and a brand’s app may be competing with the third-party aggregators. Those aggregators have a place in the overall marketing ecosystem, often by bringing in new customers, but capturing those guests and offering them additional value through a mobile app is key to increasing customer lifetime value. 

Efficiency in Mobile Strategy

Achieving this level of sophistication takes time, energy and planning. And, of course, c-store executives are already stretched thin. That’s why it’s key to balance the different cost options against the needs of the brand. That is, you shouldn’t underinvest to the point of hurting the overall brand experience, but investing heavily before you’re ready can be equally as damaging. 

Finding that right balance with the right partner will make the end result fit your needs while still offering room to grow. For example, a technology partner that offers guided processes can expedite app development, enabling a team to design and launch an app efficiently. Further refinements can be made as you grow and gather both data and insights, making the process more manageable and cost-effective.

As c-stores continue to navigate the challenges and opportunities presented by the mobile landscape, it’s evident that the key lies in understanding and adapting to evolving consumer expectations. Whether through personalized experiences, efficient integration or cohesive brand messaging, the power of mobile applications in customer engagement is undeniable. Businesses that embrace this power stand to thrive in a digital-first world.

In case you did not know, Jeff Hoover is the director of strategy and analytics for convenience store brands at Paytronix. He’s an experienced marketing professional with a multifaceted background working on both the brand and agency side, including brand management at Kimberly-Clark, Scotts Miracle-Gro and Wendy’s.

For international corporate presentations, regional chain presentations, educational forums, or keynotes contact: Steven Johnson Grocerant Guru® at Tacoma, WA based Foodservice Solutions.  His extensive experience as a multi-unit restaurant operator, consultant, brand / product positioning expert, and public speaking will leave success clues for all. For more information visit GrocerantGuru.com, FoodserviceSolutio23ns.US or call 1-253-759-7869

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