Simplifying C-Stores' Mobile Space

It’s a staggering thought. According to a report by Cisco, there will be more mobile Internet devices—such as smartphones, tablets and laptops—than people on the planet by the end of the year.

As a c-store owner or manager, what are you doing to capitalize on this? It’s critical for your business growth to engage with your customers—and provide the information they need—through their preferred method of communication. And, for many, that means through mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. So let’s explore some common questions about mobile development for businesses.

  • Should you create a mobile website or a mobile application? Or both? Ever looked at a site through your smartphone that wasn’t optimized for mobile viewing? It’s not a good experience. And it reflects poorly on the business. You should at least have a mobile-optimized website that displays properly and functions well with mobile devices. Doing so gives mobile users an easy way to pull up information about your company, and interact with it and your brand. However, it’s a sound idea to complement your mobile-friendly website with an application (iOS/Android). This gives mobile viewers a simpler, faster way to connect with you. 
  • What features should you include in your app? Load it with relevant, helpful info. For a c-store, that could include locations, store hours, phone numbers, services, gas prices, food specials and remote ordering. In short, your app should fill an information gap for your customers. It should be the one source for information regarding your brand. So, for example, if you have an existing gift-card program, consumers should be able to go to the app to reload their gift cards, send gift cards and view account balances. You can also use your app to notify customers about special events, and integrate it with your Facebook page, Twitter account and other social media outlets to keep your consumers engaged. Also, offering discounts, coupons and loyalty programs can drive repeat visits. Providing gift options or a share button is an easy way to generate referrals and acquire new customers.
  • Who should develop your app? You’ll likely generate the best app user experience by letting an experienced app developer handle this project. A bad app will generate low usage. Even worse, it will have a negative impact on your brand. An alternative solution: Let a developer create the building blocks for your app, but leverage third-party APIs from different providers who specialize in core functionality, such as PCI compliance, consumer loyalty or gift-card services. 
  • Should you create a single app or several? It’s up to you. But from a marketing perspective, it’s simpler to drive traffic to a single app. And having one app makes it easier for your customers.
  • Which mobile wallets should you accept? At this point, it’s impossible to tell which mobile wallets will become the dominant players. So don’t align with just one or two. Instead, partner with several popular options, such as Apple Passbook, MCX and Google Wallet. Besides, doing so will give your customers more choices.
  • What about “app fatigue”? With more than a million apps on the market, that’s a valid question. You might wonder why someone who already has 100 apps will want to add yours. Keep your expectations in check; not every customer will download your app. But there’s a good chance your frequent customers will, especially if you give them plenty of solid reasons to do so. Be creative.
  • How should you measure the success of your app?  Take a look at metrics such as downloads, registered users, app ratings and mobile traffic. To optimize your results, continually analyze your traffic patterns. Find out how customers use your application. See how much time they spend on each page. Determine your trouble or drop-off spots. Then make the necessary tweaks to improve your user experience, and promote ongoing usage.
  • Where else should I have a presence? Consider trying to get your app included in c-store and petro-specific apps, such as GasBuddy, Waze and MapQuest. Aligning with these apps, which are vertically focused and drive consumer behavior, gives your app more exposure. Otherwise, your app will be only as successful as your own promotional efforts. Depending on the functionality of these third-party apps, you may be able to promote your brand, send targeted offers or perhaps even include your own content.

—David Munson and Sarah Owen contributed to this column.

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