Loyalty Marketing Gets an Octane Boost from an Unlikely Friend: ExxonMobil

Jun 4, 2012

Your car is hungry and it needs fuel. You’re hungry and you need fuel.

That’s the simple logic that helped spark in earnest the growing popularity of gas station convenience stores across the country. While the fad began slowly, with less than 7 percent of gas stations going the way of convenience store in the 1970s, today better than 80 percent of convenience stores also sell gas. Beyond the quick grab-n-go lunch and Slim Jim dessert, however, gas station convenience stores continue to search for new ways to attract foot traffic, expand their shopper offerings and offset still-high gas prices that eat into profit.

Effective cross selling? Yes.  Building Loyalty?  Not so much.

Gasoline is a commodity, and a liquid fuel that doesn’t do much to inspire loyalty. In reality shoppers don’t so much as choose the gas they want. They buy fuel their car needs to function. If the gas gauge was on ‘E’ you can be sure I would stop by the nearest station and fill up – and I wouldn’t be feeling particularly loyal to any one brand.

Now a new partnership between one of the world’s largest and most profitable oil and gas corporations and a popular loyalty company, might be turning the gas station into a loyalty driven shopping destination after all.

A few weeks ago, ExxonMobil partnered with Shopkick, known for developing a popular location-based shopping app, in the hope of driving shopper traffic (no pun intended) and increasing brand loyalty. The mobile rewards campaign was launched at more than 375 ExxonMobil gas stations in Miami, New York and Washington DC, and similar partnerships are up and running with companies like Target, American Eagle and Best Buy. The way it works is simple: a small electronic device is installed at each ExxonMobil location and sends instant rewards information – called kicks – to smartphones that have downloaded the Shopkick mobile app. Rewards include: store gift cards, song downloads, movie tickets, Facebook credits and donations to some 30 charities, according to Internet Retailer. The app effectively drives loyalty to Exxon gas stations and increases the likelihood, just by a process of numbers, that more people will visit their on-site convenience stores, proving a win-win for gas station owners and for shoppers who use the Shopkick app.

As national gas prices continue their surprising – and welcomed – pre-summer fall (with the exception of California) and “pump pains” lessen, consumers are showing signs that they’re more eager to spend – even if the May jobs report underwhelmed. Electronics, furniture and auto sales all rose in April, though overall retail sales nudged upward by only 0.1%. But a gain is a gain, right? Even so, with companies like Shopkick boasting that some 3 million people have already used their services and big box companies like Target and Best Buy are on board too, the retail loyalty market remains healthy. And if gas stations can be turned into places of incentivized shopping, then there’s no telling what new branded partners might be on Shopkick’s horizon.

Whether it is promising startups like New York-based LocalBonus that use consumers’ existing credit cards as loyalty cards for LocalBonus member stores and its expansion into Denver, Sacramento, Seattle and Portland, or CVS’s work on upgrading its existing Extra Care loyalty card to a smartphone app, there’s no question that innovation continues.