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NEW ORLEANS -- Complying with Payment Card Industry (PCI) standards and figuring out how to make the best use of online social networks like Facebook and Twitter were two hot button topics at this year's NACS/Convenience Store News CIO Roundtable, held in May on the opening day of NACStech in New Orleans.
This year's roundtable drew its largest lineup of retailer participants, and marked the debut of the retailer educational session as a co-branded event between NACS and CSNews. The 2010 NACS/CSNews CIO Roundtable was sponsored by Gilbarco Veeder-Root, KSS, NCR and Pinnacle Corp.
Most of the retailers at the roundtable participate in conversations about their brands and stores via online social networking sites including Facebook and Twitter. Many have people dedicated to monitoring the social networks; some are actively marketing to their online "followers," while others are more concerned with using to sites to get customer feedback.
Maria Fidelibus, vice president of IT for Quick Chek, gave credit to her company's marketing department for spearheading the use of social networking. Quick Chek uses these to listen to customer comments, grow its brand and engage customers with weekly coupons as a thank you, according to Fidelibus. The New Jersey-based chain is experiencing strong redemption rates using Facebook. "It's an especially good way to get trial on new products," said Fidelibus.
"It's challenging to direct people to our social networking sites," said Rich Schappert, senior director of information technology for Casey's General Stores, about social networking. The Iowa-based chain has both Facebook and Twitter accounts and a dedicated person to monitor and communicate with users on those sites.
At least one manufacturer is looking beyond the current state of social media and projecting its next evolution. "Social networking and mobile device support are a primary focus for our existing and new solutions," said Drew Mize, vice president, product management and marketing for Pinnacle. "These trends are not going away, tying our consumer facing solutions to mobile devices will enable our retail clients to drive more consumers into their stores." Colbert of Kwik Trip noted the Wisconsin chain is already testing multiple marketing mobile applications and is looking at mobile payment solutions.
"Everything the kids do is via the phone now," said Tom Colbert, director of IT at Kwik Trip.
Jenny Bullard, CIO at 170-plus-store Flash Foods said her company planned to launch a mobile version of its Web site and was already active on both Facebook and Twitter. Bob Sleeper, director of technology for CHR Corp./Rutter's, said the mid-Atlantic retailer just rolled out its first mobile iPhone application -- a free download that allows Rutter's to provide electronic couponing, information on gas prices and to receive customer comments.
The retailers all agreed that despite recent negative publicity about Facebook, privacy issues are not a concern when it comes to online marketing. "Privacy is something older people worry about," said Michael Davis, vice president of member services for NACS. "The younger generation doesn't care."
From an operations perspective, Love's Travel Stops' Facebook site provides the company with a way to monitor customer comments about its sites, but loss prevention director, Roger Ahuja, pointed out employees use social networking sites as well.
"We have a lot of NACS members who have created private networking sites online for their employees," noted Davis of NACS.
"It's extremely valuable to communicate with employees this way," agreed Ahuja.
If mobile technology is the future of marketing, it is also the future for payment systems, according to many executives at the roundtable.
"Before PCI, mobile payment was steamrolling, but then everything wireless stopped," pointed out James Kelly, project manager for security and compliance for Gilbarco Veeder-Root. "Now, mobile is back."