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“Decoding the Consumer” with Data at the 2017 Convenience Retailing University

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In late February, I had the pleasure of traveling to Glendale, Arizona, to present a workshop and connect face-to-face with colleagues at the 2017 Convenience Retailing University. The theme of this year’s event was “Decoding the Consumer,” and its focus was on helping retailers navigate today’s challenges and capitalize on opportunities in a customer-driven market.

Data seems to be on every retailer’s mind these days—whether they’re trying to figure out how to gather it, analyze it, implement recommendations based on it, or maybe even ignore it and hope it goes away. But data isn’t a fad, and it isn’t going anywhere.

On the second day of the conference I presented a breakout session, “Big Gulp, Meet Big Data,” highlighting how GasBuddy’s in-app ratings and reviews feature has galvanized our community of more than 11 million monthly active users to share their thoughts on fuel stations and c-stores, supporting the argument that customers now own how brands are portrayed and perceived.

As I interacted with peers at the event, I heard some common questions and themes:

  • Retailers are looking for ways to target the individual consumer, down to day-parts and site level
  • What are some effective ways to interact with consumers?
  • Many folks are intrigued, excited and nervous about consumers being vocal and sharing real-time feedback via ratings and reviews

Here are some of my thoughts on these topics:

  1. Consumers are hit with hundreds of messages every day, and they have little tolerance for those that are irrelevant or don’t offer something of value. Brands have to stand out, be timely and relevant to capture a consumer’s fleeting attention. Targeting consumers by proximity (down to the station-specific level) and daypart enables fuel retailers, c-store chains and brands to connect with consumers in ways that give them the best experience possible. Also, attribution remains an important metric for retailers, but they are aiming for better reporting data. I have  found that location-based marketing is key to “decoding the consumer,” as it allows us to better understand a consumer’s offline behaviors and trends. In other words, if we can tell who visited a store after seeing a campaign, we can use that information to optimize future campaigns and better serve consumers.
  2. Through our interactions with millions of consumers, we know that they are vocal, on-the-go and respond to incentives that fit their lifestyles. C-stores that are looking toward the future are adapting to new technologies to acquire and retain customers, and to grow share of wallet. Customers are looking for more than just products and services; they are looking for brand experiences and to engage with fellow customers and retailers through ratings, reviews and more. Gamification and challenges through which consumers can earn points or build their own profile within brands are also a great way for retailers to engage and build loyalty.
  3. 2017 is the year of the customer, and there’s no getting around that. But there are many ways retailers can make this slew of feedback work for them. Good customer experience is your right to market. Promptly fixing problems before they turn into emergencies, turning unhappy customers into #1 fans with courteous responses to complaints, finding brand ambassadors, and using the “data” to make smarter decisions company wide should be a priority for an organization, not just a department or individual.
Senior Director of Retail