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    Emerging Tech Trends Take Center Stage at NACStech

    Mobile payments and social media are the focus of several educational workshops.

    NASHVILLE -- NACStech's exclusive CIO curriculum continued today with two workshops that delved into the future of mobile payments and building a consumer-centric technology strategy.

    In the first session, Gray Taylor, executive director of PCATS, presented a thorough analysis of the current payment options in the industry, discussed the disappointing impact of the Durbin swipe fee reform, and mapped out the dozens of mobile payment providers now jumping into the market.

    Taylor described mobile payments as "a business-altering technology," and noted that the payments landscape is at an "inflection point." Traditional card companies are at risk, he said, and market forces can play a role in determining who the ultimate winners and losers will be in the burgeoning arena of mobile payments. Above all, Taylor noted, technology is the catalyst for these changes.

    He discussed the expected reactions of the major credit card companies and big banks, both of which will fight to maintain their monopoly on payment transactions. Currently, Visa is pushing EMV, a dynamic chip that replaces the traditional magnetic stripe on cards. Taylor said this contact and contactless EMV -- essentially a "chip and signature" card -- exist to perpetuate the Visa brand.

    He also outlined the competitive moves by MasterCard and Discover, as well as the pros and cons of new service providers including Google Wallet and Isis. Another to watch is PayPal, which has a huge online following and is now being tested in the convenience store channel.

    As the technology advocate for the c-store industry, PCATS is striving to improve its relationships with government regulators and agencies, according to Taylor, and will drive for an open and comprehensive mobile wallet while lobbying the Federal Reserve for revisions of the loopholes in the Durbin reform law that have hurt retailers.

    In the following CIO session, NACS' Vice President of Research Dae Kim spoke about the implications of emerging technology trends on retailers. Using both retailer and consumer research, Kim pointed out that there are many millions of dollars in sales opportunities that retailers are missing by not meeting consumer expectations.

    The most significant example is the lost opportunity in packaged and fountain beverages, in which c-store retailers "have left an estimated $101 million on the table" as a result of consumers not purchasing up to their planned intentions.

    Another interesting fact is that when prepared food is purchased on impulse, the buy has little to do with price or promotion. "Taste and smell" were the two biggest reasons consumers said they made an unplanned prepared food purchase, said Kim. Another fact that should perturb retailers is that 37 percent of failed purchases occur due to the consumer not finding what they're looking for.

    The session wrapped up with an open discussion on emerging technologies, particularly mobile marketing.

    Success in Social Media
    Yet another up-and-coming and evolving technology -- social media -- was discussed as part of several NACStech educational workshops today and yesterday. In a session entitled, "Leveraging Social Media," Lorrie Thomas Ross, who's known as the "The Marketing Therapist and is CEO of Web Marketing Therapy, outlined a five-step approach to achieving  success in the social media market.

    Usability, visibility, credibility, sellability and scalability are all critical to success, according to Ross.

    "We're in the era of people-to-people marketing. Everything needs to be conversational," she said, noting that using the word "free" is often a valuable tool to entice customers.

    When a convenience store retailer has news they want to share with consumers, Ross suggests that they spread that news via all social media channels possible. "People are not sitting and waiting for your tweets all day," she remarked. "Don't ever feel bad about providing the same info on Twitter, Facebook and through an e-mail message. You are not overwhelming people."

    As for what c-store retailers and suppliers should talk about on social media sites, Ross cautioned NACStech attendees to not only promote their products. Citing Ricker Oil Co.'s Facebook page, she said a question as simple as "What are you doing this weekend?" can go a long way in prompting a two-way conversation between the c-store retailer and its social media fans.

    Ross also provided advice regarding improving websites. She said the upper right corner of a site is where eyeballs often go first and, therefore, is where marketing promotions should be placed.

    One convenience retailer, Texas-based Sac-N-Pac, offered social media insights based on its own experience in the session, "Integrating Mobile, Social and Loyalty Marketing." Megan Sutfin, social media administrator for Sac-N-Pac, said the chain utilizes Facebook, Twitter, foursquare and YouTube to attract customers.

    "We ran a December Facebook promotion where we donated $1 to St. Jude [Children's Research Hospital] for every ‘Like' [on Facebook]," Sutfin said. "We had 1,159 'Like' that post. We gained brand advocates while donating to St. Jude's, clearly a worthy cause."

    Sac-N-Pac also recently launched a mobile smartphone application (app) that has been well-received, though Sutfin admitted the chain has room to improve its social media efforts.

    "We haven't reached where we want to be," she said. "But we're getting there."

    As part of the same workshop, Victoria Cash, marketing manager for Outsite Networks, advised attendees that if they can't spend ample time focusing on several social media sites, they should just target Facebook since more than 900 million people are currently on that site alone.   "Most every customer will be on there," she said.

    And if available finances for social media are minimal, Cash recommended c-store owners turn to local colleges that offer internships. These students can handle a company's social media efforts.

    She did caution attendees about one thing, however. "You don't want to completely turn over the keys for your social media efforts to an 18-year-old kid," she said. "So, you should have an approval process for what they post."

    Cash concluded that social media is a journey and you can't expect perfection early on. But c-store retailers can jumpstart their social media programs as soon as they return to their offices. 

    NACStech wraps up tomorrow at the Gaylord Opryland Resort in Nashville.  

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