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Turn on the news, glance at the front page of the newspaper, read your favorite blog or surf through your feed on nearly any social networking site, and you'll notice three major concerns for many businesses: declining sales, declining outlook for the future and declining customer loyalty.
According to a recent study conducted by The NPD Group, a firm that tracks consumer sales and trends, loss of income and a lack of faith in the markets play only a minimal role in consumers' purchase-related decision-making process. The primary factor affecting whether or not a consumer makes a purchase seems to be convenience.
While adapting marketing strategies to fit consumer behavior and preferences -- like convenience -- is common sense, convenience store retailers don't always cater to their clientele's needs. Thanks to recent developments in the technology industry, however, solving this problem has become much easier.
To better connect to their customers, c-store retailers should consider developing innovative customer loyalty programs. Currently, most customer loyalty programs require consumers to fill out complicated paperwork and keep track of their purchases with a card. Unfortunately for retailers, many shoppers don't have the time to complete lengthy forms and don't always remember to carry their loyalty cards with them.
Security is yet another concern with the status quo. In today's information-saturated world, consumers are wary about their personal information being compromised when they share it with third parties.
With these issues laid out in front of them, smart businesses are realizing something needs to be done. One clever solution some tech savvy c-store retailers are focusing on is the use of mobile technology to smooth out the more complex aspects of loyalty programs. With more and more people owning smartphones, tablets and smart-MP3 players every day, there is an unfathomable amount of untapped marketing potential waiting to be unlocked by whichever enterprise uses it first.
Without a doubt, everyone wins with mobile loyalty programs. Consumers' lives are made easier and more convenient, and retailers lock in their client base.
In-Store Use of Mobile Technology
For many businesses, the most common issue in upgrading their marketing technology is the high cost often associated with making the switch. Nowadays, however, the prevalence of handheld computers -- like smartphones -- makes the process easier and more affordable than ever.
In fact, using a customer loyalty program that integrates into devices that consumers already own means that most of the cost of the switch has already been paid for by the very people that will benefit from it. Thanks to software that allows shoppers to receive and organize their receipts digitally (which doubles as a marketing service and triples as a loyalty program), retailers can seamlessly integrate their new mobile loyalty program into the point-of-sale (POS) system they already have.
Not only does this help reduce the cost of the switch, but it also allows retailers to connect and communicate with their clientele at each and every transaction.
Saving Time, Saving Money
Again, it is a win-win. Both customers and c-store retailers save a substantial amount of time and money. The fact that customers always carry around the technology that allows mobile loyalty programs to exist (their phone) makes it no big surprise that they want and demand the service from stores.
A mobile-based loyalty program allows for numerous savings. On the retailer side, advertising becomes cheaper, sales promotions become easier to disseminate, and the amount of paperwork involved to maintain loyalty programs is cut substantially.
On the consumer side, customers can easily stay up to date with the store, learn about special promotional deals, and actually use the loyalty program they are signed up for thanks to the simplicity of having all the necessary information digitally stored on their phone, rather than in a confusing collection of cards and paperwork. The sheer elegance and simplicity of the technology will potentially keep customers much more loyal than a complicated system ever could.
The Ideal Combination
No doubt, the mobile boom is nowhere near over. The potential number of consumers who can use a mobile loyalty program will only continue to grow. With all the savings involved for both the c-store retailer and the consumer, it's not a big stretch to say that the use of this innovative consumer loyalty strategy will do the same. The bottom line: using mobile technology is not only the most affordable way to modernize loyalty programs, but also the most efficient.
Fang Cheng is founder and CEO of Proximiant Inc., a Silicon Valley-based company that developed the patent-pending digital receipt services. Prior to Proximiant, Fang led her previous company to a successful acquisition by Amazon. Fang received her Ph.D. in bioinformatics from New York University.
Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.