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Five tips on how to fuel holiday sales during the travel season

Published November 19, 2021

The holidays are just around the corner. Given how the pandemic wreaked havoc with most people’s travel plans in 2020—and how it continues to affect travel abroad—experts expect to see a surge in car trips this year as folks hit the road to visit loved ones or celebrate the holidays with a change of scenery.

For gas-station and convenience-store owners across the U.S., this travel surge could translate to a spike in sales and revenue. But how much your business ultimately profits depends on how well you’re able to rise above the competition and attract holiday travelers to your location.

Today’s consumer has many options readily available when it comes to fueling up or picking up essentials from a convenience store. Gas stations and c-stores are on nearly every street corner in urban areas selling the same products. So, in order to win the business of customers fueling up for the holidays, you’ll need to focus on improving the shopping experience. A key place to start is by boosting convenience and offering incentives.

Related: Retail holiday checklist

Convenience is king

In addition to being a joyful time for reconnecting with family and friends, the holidays can also be extremely stressful—especially for folks who have to coordinate travel plans or prepare for road trips to visit loved ones. This stress has been heightened by supply-chain issues created and exacerbated by the pandemic. In addition to having to figure out travel logistics, many people now have the added stress of dealing with lack of product inventory and shipping delays when purchasing gifts and essentials.

With so many pain points these days—all made even worse when combined with the holiday rush—offering customers a convenient, friction-free experience at the pump or in your shop can go a very long way.

Win them over with self-service and mobile payments

At most gas stations, fueling up has been a self-service task since the 1960s (with a few rare exceptions). Most customers simply pull up, fill up, pay at the pump, and take off. The whole process delivers the fast, frictionless experience today’s consumers crave.

If you’re operating a convenience store, most customers will still need to physically enter the store and look for whatever product they need to purchase—that element of the shopping process hasn’t changed. But you can simplify other aspects of their experience by offering convenience-boosting options, like mobile and self-checkout.

Both mobile and self-checkout reduce lengthy queues at the cash register and save customers time—a top priority during the holiday months and especially during holiday travel. In fact, over 70 percent of customers agreed that waiting in line to check out is their least favorite part about shopping. And in 2021, mobile payments have gone up by 40 percent, reinforcing this belief. The best part is that implementing mobile or self-checkout at your convenience store to attract customers fueling up for the holidays can be quite easy with the right technology and partner. For example, see how Mach 1 used self-checkout to improve their check out experience.

If you’re opting to introduce self-checkout to your convenience store, you’ll need to implement self-checkout kiosks. Working with a tech partner that offers self-checkout equipment and implementation is the fastest, easiest way to get onboard and introduce a self-service channel to your customers. The ease and speed of self-service will be worth the investment, especially if you’re looking to earn more business from customers fueling up for the holidays. During a season when time is of the essence, customers will be more likely to go the extra mile for a store that offers self-checkout than wait in line at a store that doesn’t.

Implementing mobile payments also requires a solid tech stack and integration with a versatile, user-friendly app, like Apple Pay. It’s a very timely idea, too, considering that contactless is everything right now. As with self-checkout, upgrading your POS to handle instant, digital payments is a breeze when you team up with a partner that specializes in facilitating mobile payment solutions.

Unlike self-checkout, which requires interactive kiosks, mobile payment solutions are fully digital—the only hardware needed is a mobile device. Gas station owners should also embrace mobile payment options. It’s a great alternative to paying at the pump, as it eliminates the need for customers to fumble for a credit card and offers an instant solution if a pump side card-reader is malfunctioning. 

Lock in repeat business with loyalty points

The benefits of robust loyalty programs have been proven time and again in many industries, from restaurants to retail and beyond. The same holds true for gas stations and convenience stores.

Customers love the idea that their purchases are directly contributing to future gain—and that’s precisely the purpose that a loyalty program serves. Encourage repeat business among regular customers and incentivize new customers to choose your gas station or convenience store by offering rewards based on how many times they visit or how much they spend with you overall.

The rewards themselves can be simple—anything from a free coffee to a percentage taken off their next purchase is usually enough to encourage customers to choose your place of business over a competitor that doesn’t offer a loyalty-based reward system. Creating a solid, functioning reward system, if you don’t already have one, doesn’t require a ton of time, effort or investment, either.

As with the self-checkout and mobile payment options mentioned earlier, convenience should drive your loyalty program. Team up with a partner who can help you build and launch a digital loyalty program that tracks customer visits or purchases, enables mobile payments and allows customers to accrue and access rewards—straight from their phones.

Sure, lots of places offer punch cards that can be used to redeem discounts and free items, but few customers find it worth the hassle to keep track of their punch cards and make sure they’re always on hand. By offering an easy, digital loyalty program customers can access via mobile, you’re offering a strong incentive for them to choose your gas station or c-store when fueling up for the holidays.

Make the most of pump-side advertising

The gas pump gets far more foot traffic on any given day than the adjoining convenience store. Therefore, it’s prime real estate to engage customers and sell them on dropping by the c-store. Use the pump to showcase holiday-themed specials, exclusive offers, new items and other enticing things—like the fact that you now offer mobile payments or a digital loyalty system.

Also, don’t be afraid to embrace the season with some festive decorations. Most customers will appreciate the effort, and holiday-inspired decor could also help put them in the mode to spend more. If your store is selling any seasonal or holiday-themed product, or items that can serve as last-minute gifts (like bottles of wine, cookie tins and more), the pump is a great place to advertise them.

In a nutshell, the best way to capture the business of customers fueling up for the holidays this year is to stand above the competition. And the easiest way to do this, during a time filled with stress and nationwide shortages, is to offer more convenience than anyone else. Maximizing your marketing efforts by advertising seasonal products at the pump and sprucing up your location with holiday-inspired decorations can also yield huge returns when it comes to drawing customers. Don’t wait to get started, though—the holidays are just around the corner, and you want to be ready well in advance.

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