Looking Ahead to a More Convenient Shopping Experience

Looking Ahead to a More Convenient Shopping Experience

By Cole Baldwin

Although Canadians are once again returning to in-person shopping, indoor dining and attending large entertainment events, the way businesses operate has been forever changed.

With businesses having pivoted online to keep the lights on during the pandemic, consumers have now acclimated to having myriad options when it comes to shopping and paying.

While the customer experience for convenience stores and carwashes differs greatly from those within more specialized retail businesses, there are nonetheless ways to leverage technology and changing consumer behaviour to build loyalty and connection with your customers.

Build an online presence

The pandemic led to a large uptick in omnichannel operations, with businesses now meeting Canadians wherever they may be — in person or online. And Canadians are receptive: We recently commissioned a study with Wakefield that found that 57 per cent of Canadian customers are interested in trying newer ways to shop, such as directly through social media or even through virtual reality and livestream shopping.

But the task isn’t quite as simple for convenience stores, nor for carwashes. While clothing stores, beauty parlours and restaurants all cater to returning customers, customer loyalty may not be quite as strong within these convenience-driven businesses. Need milk? Pop into the nearest store. Car dirty? The nearest carwash may just do the trick. But despite the one-off, transactional nature of these businesses, omnichannel selling can nonetheless help increase sales and engagement.

With the right partner, carwashes can easily set up selling and booking appointments through an online store or QR codes, and allow returning customers to buy multiple carwashes in advance, or at discounted rates. Online sales also offer a great opportunity to upsell by marketing car cleaning products such as car wax, shammies, windshield fluid and other car paraphernalia alongside the carwash service, helping to not only increase the number of customers, but also the value of the average transaction.

Convenience stores can use these same features to help recommend complementary items to help upsell. They can also leverage curbside pickup features and mobile payments to allow customers to pre-order and pay for their items, saving them time and helping to maintain social distancing as some COVID-19 restrictions remain intact. 

Create a loyalty program

Loyalty programs are effective because they add value to the customer experience beyond the first interaction or purchase. In an industry based on convenience rather than loyalty, a loyalty program that rewards customers for continuing patronage and engagement can go a long way. 

Luke Nieuwland, a business owner in Port Colborne, Ontario – who uses multiple Square tools to help run his business – said that, in 2021, his loyalty customers spent “198 per cent more than non-loyalty customers,” averaging 10.8 visits to the golf club compared to 1.7 for those not enrolled in the program.

Initiate a tailored marketing program

Email marketing is becoming more important than ever and our new survey also found that nearly half of all Canadian retailers (48 per cent) are using or planning to implement automation technology to better communicate with customers.

This technology lets businesses quickly share information on rewards, sales, coupons, and other timely promotions. They can also send shareable pay links through marketing messages to easily connect with customers and simplify the checkout process. 

In fact, data from US businesses using Square in January 2021 revealed that almost 50 per cent of coupons and discounts sent through our Square Marketing tool were redeemed within one week, while that increased to 78 per cent by August 2021. With the tool having recently launched in Canada, customers will be eager to hear about special carwash discounts and deals on their favourite chocolates and chips. 

The pandemic affected different businesses in different ways, but one commonality is that it has changed business as usual. With so many new tools and features launching to help businesses recover and grow, convenience stores and carwashes have an opportunity to begin to build a loyal customer base, in addition to those just stopping by. 

Cole Baldwin is a small business expert at Square.

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