Integrating forecourt and backcourt loyalty programs can increase customer engagement.

 

By Kevin Rice

To stand out from the competition and build consumer loyalty, many convenience retail marketers have adopted fuel brand loyalty programs and platforms focused on fuel savings. However, because these programs are not integrated with independent c-stores, marketers are limited, and the customer experience is often complicated with separate loyalty programs. The solution is an integrated loyalty program that seamlessly connects forecourt and backcourt offerings in one easy-to-use experience.

For the past decade, fuel marketers have benefited from consumer fuel purchases to maintain revenue and margin growth as the cost of fuel continues to climb. But with a highly competitive market and a consumer that is traditionally agnostic to fuel brands, building a business on forecourt sales is limited.

Loyalty programs are a proven way to grow your business. In fact, are more likely to buy from a brand with a loyalty program. And while fuel brand (Exxon, Chevron, etc.) loyalty programs provide valuable incentives for customers, the challenge with many of these programs is that their singular focus on winning over brand-agnostic consumers comes at the cost of user experience and preferences.

These coalition programs invite any marketer that sells a specific fuel brand to participate, which has allowed fuel brands to build a national network of different independent fuel outlets. But these programs are not necessarily focused on building loyalty to a single-site operator, or a regionalized group of branded sites operated by a jobber or marketer. While these programs do offer consumers value, they are doing very little to build consumer loyalty to the total brand.

In fact, many of the mobile applications that support these fuel brand loyalty programs lack any type of individualized retailer branding whatsoever. For example, a Southeast-based convenience store and wholesale fuels company that contracts with a major oil brand has two separate rewards experiences on the same property. To receive loyalty benefits, customers must switch between using the fuel-branded rewards program and the separate c-store rewards app to access features such as order ahead. This creates friction in the user experience and limits opportunities for cross-selling across the forecourt and backcourt.

 

Benefits of Native Loyalty: Better Data, Targeted Promotions

These limitations have led many midsize and larger innovative marketers like Kwik Trip, Rutters and Wawa to create their own loyalty programs and mobile applications that feature both fuel savings and in-store offerings (food, unique offers). From a consumer perspective, this is expected: “I should be able to apply my fuel rewards to in-store purchases. After all, it’s the same business, right?”

In addition, these customized loyalty programs fully reflect the uniqueness of the marketer brand that consumers have grown to recognize. Logos, imagery, colors, fonts and even the look and feel of the digital experience are completely built around the marketer brand, which can and should include the fuel brand if locations carry a major oil banner. The opportunity for major oil is to create a more open structure for branded marketer integration and to provide support for integrations, combining the power of fuel rewards seamlessly with varied backcourt offerings. Shell’s API catalog, with loyalty APIs for redemption, offers and points balance is a good example of the types of tools that can help build an integrated experience.

This investment in a customized loyalty experience can create more personalized digital marketing campaigns that drive engagement through greater relevance and better align with the total consumer journey. Marketers are then able to leverage this technology to better understand consumers and improve engagement and average order value (AOV), both at the pump and in the store. This cannot be executed in the disparate technological environment of today.

 

Solving for C-Store-Specific Challenges

For other channels such as restaurants, grocery and non-fuel convenience stores, creating a seamless experience is more straightforward. Connecting forecourt and backcourt offerings in one easy-to-use experience requires an investment in backend technology integration, navigating a technology stack that supports the fuel pump terminals, forecourt controller, in-store POS systems and back-office software. This can affect the implementation of fuel brand loyalty programs and even templated, white-label loyalty mobile applications.

By providing integration support for their loyalty programs, major oil brands can help independent retailers grow their brands and increase sales in both the forecourt and backcourt. Only through more integrated applications will the digital experience delivered by branded fuel marketers more closely align with the total forecourt and backcourt consumer journey.

With the complexities involved, it is essential for both major fuel brands and marketers to gain insight from industry experts. With a complete knowledge of the forecourt and backcourt consumer journey, tech solution landscape and overall channel, industry experts can offer guidance on the best options that are compatible with existing technologies, while also delivering a seamless customer experience that drives engagement, AOV and ultimately comp sales.

 

Kevin Rice is the executive vice president at Bounteous. Founded in 2003 in Chicago, Bounteous is a leading digital innovation partner that co-innovates with the world’s most ambitious brands to create transformative digital experiences. With services in strategy, experience design, technology, analytics and insight and marketing, Bounteous elevates brand experiences through technology partnerships and unparalleled platform expertise. For more information, visit www.bounteous.com.