week—that could be why the loyalty program has
been adding about 100 new members a month since it
launched in the fourth quarter of 2012.
C-store mobile couponing comes at a time when
two in five companies in the United States were
expected to use mobile coupons for marketing in 2015,
according to research firm eMarketer.
eMarketer estimates the number of U. S. adults who
redeem mobile coupons will increase 18.4% this year
to 97.4 million. That includes consumers who redeem
coupons on smartphones or on tablets.
Evolve and Strategize
Indeed, c-stores have come a long way since
the days of punch-card coffee rewards, said
Kay Segal, senior partner at consulting firm
Business Accelerator Team and senior strategist
at Midwest Retail Group, a 7-Eleven franchisee
group. “C-stores now have well-established, fully
integrated loyalty programs,” she said. “There’s so
much more sophistication.”
The c-store industry recognizes that free and
discounted products are a cost of doing business
because they generate true loyalty, Segal said. She
defines loyalty differently than rewards. Loyalty is
when consumers are willing to go out of their way or
pay a higher price to shop at a certain retailer. Rewards
are simply one aspect of a loyalty program. “Loyalty
programs give your brand personality, and create trust
and transparency with consumers,” she said.
Loyalty programs exemplify how c-stores are
becoming more strategic in their promotional
activity, especially couponing, said Rick Sales,
president of Abierto Networks, a digital engagement
solutions provider that runs Open Pantry’s loyalty
program. “C-stores are starting to understand that
the only way to get a consumer to become loyal is to
give them more reasons why they should do more
business with them,” Sales said.
Coupons can help achieve this by reaching people
who may not be invested in a store. “A coupon gets
them to come in and try you,” Sales said.
Schutz agrees: “The free offers are designed to
get customers through our door. Once they are here,
they can see who we are and what we offer.”
Prior to starting OPFREE, Schutz explored other
c-store loyalty programs. What he found was that
many focused on discounted—but not free—food
and beverages. “People don’t trust percent-off
discounts. They fear retailers simply raise the
retails,” he said. So he opted for a different approach.
C-stores are evolving not only in terms of how they
connect with shoppers, but also in the technology
they use to reach them. While some retailers send
free offers via email, an increasing number of
retailers are communicating with loyal shoppers
via text and mobile apps.
Take 7-Eleven. While the retailer gives away free
Slurpee frozen drinks to all customers each year on
July 11, it also runs special offers for its 7Rewards
members. Most of these promotions are made
available on its mobile app, available via the Apple
App Store or Google Play.
During a weeklong freebie event this past July,
members of 7Rewards received a free 7-Select
private-brand food or drink valued under $2 with
the purchase of any 7-Eleven Slurpee, Big Gulp or
other proprietary 7-Eleven beverage. The free offer
automatically appeared as a coupon in the Scan and
Save section of the app.
The chain also connected its mobile app to
its FREEkend summer events, during which it
offers free items throughout select weekends to
7Rewards members. Free items have included a
Slurpee, Juicy Fruit gum and a Snickers bar.
Open Pantry also rewards members by texting them
coupons every other week for free food and beverages,
such as a 20-ounce carbonated soft drink. For the
months of November and December, Open Pantry
enhanced the program by offering free products every
The Refreshing Rewards loyalty program at Louisville,
Kentucky-based Thorntons provides fuel discounts and personalized
rewards based on store-visit frequency. Here’s how it breaks down:
• Welcome Level: All new members are opted-in. They receive
10 cents off per gallon of gas for the first 30 days, personalized
discounts and more.
• Premium Level: After 10 visits, members are bumped up to
mid-level, and receive gas price alerts, 10 cents off per gallon of
gas on their birthday and email receipts.
• Thorntons VIP: After 25 visits, Refreshing Rewards members
become VIPs. They get a 24-hour low fuel price guarantee, and
3 cents off per gallon on every fill.
Building a Loyalty Program