Adopting a Customer-First Digital Strategy

How to apply a 'top-down' approach

Within convenience and fuel retail, ensuring customers are catered to is crucial for survival. But how can a convenience or fuel retailer implement a successful customer-first digital commerce strategy? Learning more about the current landscape can help operators get a better perspective on how to overcome challenges related to customer loyalty.

customer on mobile phone

Once retailers have an in-depth understanding of what’s being done now, they’ll be prepared to introduce technology advancements and innovate in digital customer experience, including driving customer-first approaches with personalized and predictive commerce. Additionally, they’ll know how to prioritize for what the customer actually wants and needs.

Understanding the current landscape

Within many businesses (including c-stores), there’s a conflict of “what we want as a business” versus “what the customer really wants.” Sometimes, retailers determine internally to invest in technology that does what they want, which may or may not align with what the customer wants. Of course, since the customer is what keeps a business open, that is where the focus of strategy development and the driver of digital innovation should be.

Additionally, retailers can easily default to utilizing a “bottoms-up” approach for digital customer engagement strategy. Instead of starting with the customer and directing technology and digital customer experience decisions from there, retailers choose to let their offerings be dictated by what technology suppliers are pushing from the bottom up.

To ensure customers are satisfied, though, that needs to change—retailers should instead be using a “top-down” approach and seeking out technology suppliers that start by putting the needs of the customer first.

Reorienting digital customer experience strategy in this fashion will ensure retailers remain relevant and continue to grow in a world where technology is poised to disrupt current business models.

Technology advancements for driving customer-first approaches

Within the technology ecosystem, there are several advancements happening right now that will drastically change what retailers are capable of. If retailers fail to get on board with these advancements, they risk being left behind.

For instance, advancements such as artificial intelligence, biometric authentication, connected cars and scan-and-go retail experiences are all radically changing the store experience:

  • AI/machine-learning technology recognizes purchase history, product preferences, and respond faster with more relevant, personalized messages.
  • Biometric authentication is ushering in more seamless and secure payments that provide the customer with more personalized options for how they pay.
  • Connected commerce applications (such as mobile apps, or connected car apps typically found on a car’s infotainment system) can communicate directly with the store. For instance, if the connected commerce app knows a customer is a 10-minute drive away from the c-store, and the customer wants to order a sandwich that takes five minutes to prepare, the commerce app can alert the c-store based on traffic patterns for when to start prepping the order.
  • Scan-and-go technology, as well as mobile order-ahead tech for food services (such as what is provided by Sheetz), will only continue to grow.

While these innovations may seem like outliers today, before long, customers will expect them as baseline features of retail. The time to start working on these digital customer experiences is now and the technologies and solutions are readily available from suppliers like Stuzo.

“The customer base that wants a faster and more seamless digital payment experience is growing staggeringly fast,” said Mark Burford, Senior Director, Marketing at Sunoco. “The overall sentiment for the customer is they want to get in and out faster, they want their experience personalized and they want more control. As a retailer, we can accomplish this by utilizing a data-driven approach to the customer experience and to how we manage and operate our digital commerce solutions.”

Practical advice for prioritizing the customer

Ensuring customers remain loyal to convenience or fuel retail brands means offering them what they want and need from a digital store experience. This means developing a deeper, personalized one-to-one relationship with customers as well as building and reinforcing customer behaviors that align with targeted business outcomes.

Some practical tips for ensuring that digital strategy remains focused on prioritizing what customers want and need:

  • Retailers should speak live, one-on-one with customers in their markets. Find out how they want to order their food, how they want to use mobile payments, if they have the store’s loyalty app, if they’re aware of the store’s mobile app and its capabilities, what kind of offers or messages from the brand would affect change in their purchase behavior, etc. This ethnographic research approach will generate insights that help retailers customize their digital commerce offerings in their markets and build long lasting relationships with their customers.
  • The customer should be a part of the design of the solution—after all, no one can tell a retailer more about the experience of using a solution than the person who will use and derive value from it.
  • Retailers should adopt best practices and frameworks from design thinking and lean to ensure their digital commerce solutions are iterating toward the right product/market fit alongside their customers.
  • Retailers should think about their digital commerce solutions as ongoing, iterative programs that require a significant amount of attention from executive leadership. The benefits of adopting a data-driven approach and delivering a personalized and predictive commerce experience has a direct correlation with both top line and bottom line growth.

Personalized and predictive commerce solutions for c-stores

To remain competitive, retailers must take the wants, needs and voice of the customer into consideration when developing a digital commerce strategy. The time to invest in innovative digital store experiences is now, and inaction is not an option; customers will be drawn to retailers that offer a personalized digital store experience, and if your store isn’t keeping up, they will go somewhere else.

Stuzo is a leading provider of personalized and predictive commerce solutions for retailers, powered by products, services, and market leading insights platforms. Stuzo’s solutions help retailers develop one-on-one relationships with their customers, increase average transaction value per customer, increase customer visit frequency, and build repeat customer behaviors that drive targeted business outcomes. To learn more, visit

This post is sponsored by Stuzo


Exclusive Content

General Merchandise/HBC

Theme of This Year’s Kwik Trip Holiday Sweater: Glazers

Matching beanie also among seasonal merchandise from convenience-store chain

Company News

2023 Retail Leader of the Year: Forging Her Own Path

Morhous leads RaceTrac into the next generation of convenience retail


Tobacco Plus Forum: How to Keep Up in a Changing Environment

Category managers, industry experts share insights at annual meeting