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    Big Data Bridges the Gap to Consumers

    There’s no denying that big data is a big deal in today’s c-store marketplace. The flood of information available to retailers from myriad data sources is instrumental in developing targeted products, pricing, promotions and marketing programs.

    There’s no denying that big data is a big deal in today’s c-store marketplace. The flood of information available to retailers from myriad data sources is instrumental in developing targeted products, pricing, promotions and marketing programs.

    Many retailers say the biggest advantage big data provides is the ability to better understand and connect with shoppers. In addition to traditional customer transaction histories, big data technology and analytics can help c-store retailers understand the “who, what, when, where, why and how” of their customers’ buying patterns.

    A Worldwide Phenomenon

    In November, MediaMath, a New York-based global technology company, released a study of more than 3,000 data-driven marketers and advertisers across 17 different regions. According to its findings, 63.2 percent of marketers reported an uptick in their spending on data-driven marketing and advertising over the past year, and another 10 percent said their data-driven budgets will increase again next year.

    "Driving a connected, seamless consumer experience is the holy grail of marketing," said Rachel Meranus, senior vice president of marketing of MediaMath. “With the right technology, marketers can know a great deal about their consumers and their habits.”

    The c-store industry, however, is just beginning to tap big data’s full potential, according to Gray Taylor, executive director of Conexxus, the Alexandria, Va.-based technology arm of the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS).

    “There’s a huge race right now to know the American population,” Taylor said. “We’re taking baby steps. I think the c-store industry has been incredibly successful in collecting names through loyalty programs and attaching those names to transactions, but beyond that we are still in the cradle.”

    Loyalty Matters

    C-store loyalty programs are a fundamental step in the big data journey, enhancing the customer experience in-store and at the pump.

    The Adventure Club loyalty card program at the Maverik chain of c-stores based in Salt Lake City, Utah is one example.

    Ernie Harker, executive director of marketing, considers the program is a tool that opens a window on frequent customers’ preferences. Among other benefits, the Adventure Club allows Maverik to reach loyal shoppers with targeted text messages, emails or custom messages right on their receipts. With 600,000 club card holders, that reach is expansive.

    “The biggest benefit of the loyalty card for Maverik has been being able to communicate with our customers on a one-to-one-basis,” said Harker. “Without the loyalty card information we are blind. We know we have customers in a general sense but there is no way to market individually to them and that is becoming more important.”

    In a larger sense, Maverik’s loyalty program helps the company chip away at one of the c-store industry’s biggest challenges – leading consumers away from the pumps and into the stores with promotions and other messages about rewards.

    Louisville, Ky.-based Thorntons, which recently rolled out its Refreshing Rewards customer loyalty program to all its stores, also offers personalized rewards based on customer preferences. The loyalty platform allows Thorntons to offer real-time messaging about weekly promotions, gas pricing and distances to the next reward.

    Moreover, because Thorntons captures specific data on which customers are buying which SKUs, the chain can transmit information back to CPG vendors, who can turn buyer-level information into targeted, high-yield promotions.

    Making the Most of Technology

    As the c-store industry continues to explore big data, third-party companies are eager to help them collect and manage the copious amounts of available data available.

    “We work on developing solutions that allow retailers to bring their customers into the equation,” said Randy Evins, senior principal of industry value engineering for food, drug, and convenience at SAP, a leading provider of software solutions for the retail industry. “They can facilitate a conversation with their customers, then take the results from that conversation and that transaction to the people making the decisions about product assortment, pricing and strategies.”

    SAP’s Consumer Activity Repository application, which provides a central place for all customer information to be stored and accessed in real time, is one of those solutions.

    “If I’m standing at the pump filling up my car, I can get an offer to come in the store and purchase something in the realm of things I would like to purchase,” explained Evins. “Tools like these offer a comprehensive view of the customer. They’re game changing.”

    What’s Next? Data Sharing?

    As advanced as big data has become, even bigger opportunities lie on the horizon, experts said. Taylor, for one, believes the c-store industry should reach out to non-competing retail verticals to determine what customers are buying at those locations, as well.

    “Retailers have to change the mindset that their data is theirs and only theirs,” he explained. “They should ask themselves how they can partner with or sell or trade their data with other companies to get a more complete understanding of who their customers really are.”

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