Whether you're a retailer or a supplier, whether you prefer the old-school way of doing things or embrace the new, there's no denying the retail industry has entered the digital era.
"You're in it whether you like it or not," Don Burke, senior vice president of Management Science Associates (MSA), said during the NACS Show marketing-track educational session, "The Digital Media Age." He noted that the use of digital media isn't localized to any particular category, as recent research shows that two-thirds of retailers surveyed are under pressure to provide technical innovation that will improve customer retention and loyalty.
To achieve this, retailers must understand what they're working with. Digital media includes both digital screens (in the form of laptops, tablets and mobile devices) and mobile apps. On the social media side, consumers' favorites include Facebook, Twitter, foursquare, Instagram, YouTube and Pinterest, which is one of the fastest-growing social media websites.
In an effort to help retailers understand what they're working with, MSA recently teamed with Paradigm Sample to create cciPanel, the first-of-its-kind mobile research panel designed to capture information on purchase decisions and attitudes from convenience store shoppers, including Millennials, the segment most likely to shop in the convenience channel. The panel collected data from 3,417 c-store visits by shoppers 21 years or older between April and September 2012.
The average c-store shopper skews male and is 18 to 34 years old. The most frequently purchased product categories include packaged beverages, candy and gum/mints, salty snacks and tobacco, but not all purchases are planned before entering the store. With social media serving as a significant influence on the brands consumers purchase, "think of the power that you could have on the categories they do tend to buy," Burke said.
As part of its social media analysis, cciPanel examined the type, frequency and effectiveness of social media posts on Facebook by convenience retailers. The four main categories are:
- Store engagement: profiling loyal customers, reminders of holiday hours.
- Announcement of promotions: advertising sales, social media-only contests.
- New product highlights: employee reviews, advertising hard-to-find items or flavors.
- Prepared food features: highlighting quality ingredients, ties to weather.
Since many c-stores launch their first social media efforts on Facebook, Burke said achieving effectiveness there is all the more important. If retailers post too much or too little, they will see a significant audience drop-off. The optimal amount of posts is roughly once a week for independents and small chains; twice a week for mid-size chains; and three times a week for very large chains.
Like Facebook, Twitter also provides a big opportunity for c-store retailers due to its heavy use by the industry's target age range and its built-in picture and video functionality. Benefits of this platform include the ability of followers to amplify stores' messages, and it can be especially useful for brand building, positioning, awareness and general marketing, according to Burke.
Whatever forms of social media c-stores choose to embrace, he recommends being expansive rather than restrictive when it comes to promotions. A study on the effectiveness of foursquare coupons, for instance, showed that sales benefited more from a coupon for a free coffee of any kind than from coupons for a specific type. Facebook coupons also increased sales at breakfast and lunch more than other dayparts, the cciPanel research revealed.