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    C-stores Favor Social Media Over Other Digital Platforms

    New CSNews/Balvor study finds dominant use is for image building.

    By Don Longo, Convenience Store News

    NATIONAL REPORT -- Three-quarters of convenience store retailers use Facebook, and image building is their dominant strategy for the social media platform, according to a new social and digital media study conducted by Convenience Store News and Balvor LLC, a leading retail industry consultancy. That’s significantly more than the number that use digital platforms such as e-mail marketing (56 percent) and text messaging (51 percent).

    However, small-format retailers are hard-pressed to quantify any tangible business return on their investment in social media, as indicated by the study conducted in February with 124 large- and small-format retailers representing a total of nearly 30,000 stores in the United States.

    In addition, c-stores seem to trail grocery retailers in developing a strategy to use digital platforms like text messaging and e-mail marketing to drive sales gains. Large-format retailers (club, dollar, drug, grocery, mass and supercenter) think they are doing a better job of using digital and social media platforms than small-format retailers (convenience stores), although neither group gave themselves a passing grade.

    Asked to rate how effective they are at using social and digital media platforms on a scale of zero to 10, with zero meaning "not at all effective" and 10 meaning "extremely effective," almost half of large-format retailers gave themselves a score of seven or better. In comparison, only one-quarter of c-store retailers gave themselves a passing grade.

    "This is not at all surprising. These tools, especially the social platforms, are still relatively new and c-stores tend to be later adopters compared with the grocery industry," said David Bishop, managing partner at Balvor. "Many c-stores operators are still trying to define the proper role of digital and social media platforms in their business, and perhaps some of the results indicate they have not drawn a clear distinction between the two, distinct platform groups."

    Bishop pointed out that c-stores are using social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest, Foursquare and Google+ for brand- and image-building purposes. When it comes to digital platforms, c-store operators are using these primarily for driving sales, whether that’s via incremental trips to the store or items in the basket.

    While convenience retailers reported that Facebook was overwhelmingly their most prevalent digital and social media marketing platform, large-store formats had e-mail marketing tied with Facebook at 93 percent of respondents using each of these platforms.

    "Facebook may be popular with c-stores because of its perceived low cost of entry," Bishop noted.

    Fifty-six percent of c-stores say they use e-mail marketing, 51 percent use text messaging, 49 percent use Twitter, 47 percent use foursquare and 34 percent use YouTube.

    In general, c-store retailers using e-mail marketing and text messaging reported being farther along in their development of these platforms as effective marketing and business tools than those using social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and the others.

    More findings from this exclusive study will be featured in the May issue of Convenience Store News.

    By Don Longo, Convenience Store News
    • About Don Longo Don Longo is editorial director of EnsembleIQ's Convenience Store News, Convenience Store News for the Single Store Owner and Hispanic Retail 360 media brands. He has covered retailing for more than 30 years as a reporter, editor and publisher. Previously, he spearheaded the editorial efforts at a variety of business publications focused on mass, drug, grocery and specialty store retailing. Convenience Store News won American Business Media’s Jesse H. Neal Award for Best Issue of the Year in 2008 and 2012. Longo has won numerous other editorial awards over his career and is frequently quoted in the national and local news media on the subjects of retailing and consumer trends.
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