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CSA Exclusive: Casey’s digitally thrives during COVID-19

Chris Jones
Chris Jones

COVID-19 is not stopping Casey’s General Stores from pursuing a wide range of online, mobile, CRM, marketing, and store growth initiatives.

Chain Store Age recently spoke with Chris Jones, senior VP and chief marketing officer, Casey’s General Stores Inc., about the convenience chain’s multifaceted success strategy for fiscal 2021 (which began May 1, 2020). Based in Ankeny, Iowa, Casey’s operates more than 2,200 stores in 16 states. 

“This is a very interesting time for us,” said Jones. “We have had a significant upswing in earnings and earnings per share, dramatically higher than a year ago. But we’re doing it differently. We have an unusually large fuel margin, while sales of prepared food and grab and go food are down. These items are an important part of our assortment mix, unlike a lot of traditional convenience stores. Casey’s is more like a quick-service restaurant (QSR) chain in that respect.” 

In another parallel to the QSR sector, Jones said Casey’s has also seen an increase in its sales of whole pizzas. The retailer has been launching a variety of digital tools to help meet customer demand for mobile and online shopping.

“We have seen enormous e-commerce growth,” said Jones. “I came on board in April 2018 with the top priority of transforming our digital capabilities and infrastructure. The marketing team has led the development effort.”

Since Jones arrived, Casey’s has taken steps toward digital transformation including replacing a third-party online ordering system with a new cloud-based SAP Hybris e-commerce tool. The retailer leverages the Salesforce Service Cloud and Marketing Cloud solutions to manage online customer engagement and promotions.

In January 2020, Casey’s introduced its first loyalty program, Casey’s Rewards. The program is based on a Punchh loyalty platform built on a microservices infrastructure with MuleSoft capabilities. The platform is API-driven and configured to allow employees access to the rewards program inside Casey’s NCR POS terminals.

“We were lagging until we introduced our loyalty program,” said Jones. “We already have 2.25 million members.”

The new Casey’s Rewards program enables customers to earn and track points on eligible purchases across brick-and-mortar stores, online, fuel pumps, and phone. Once customers earn 250 points, they can redeem them in a variety of ways. These include converting points into Casey’s Cash, which can be used to pay for items inside the store; redeeming points for cents off fuel purchases, or turning points into a donation to a local school of their choice.

As part of the rewards program launch, Casey’s also updated its mobile app. Users can now track points and pizza purchases, as well as gain access to special offers and discounts on everyday purchases. 

“In March 2019 we launched a new website and mobile site, and in April 2019 we introduced a new white label mobile app,” Jones said. “Now we have an in-house-developed app. The old app pushed orders out via iframe to a third-party site. The new app natively processes orders and sends rewards offers in-app. Customers can also scan a QR code to register their presence in store and use the app as a store payment method, as well as recall previous orders in the app.”

Casey’s mobile system operates with a custom front end built on top of its SAP Hybris platform. The retailer partnered with Deloitte Digital and Punchh to configure and customize its app.

For customers who still prefer to shop via phone call, the retailer’s order management system captures phone orders digitally and recognizes callers based on their customer ID or phone number.

“This offers more personalization and simplifies phone ordering for the customer,” commented Jones.

Other technology initiatives Casey’s is undertaking include the centralization of procurement processes with a third-party solution. “We are shoring up our own procurement capability, using an existing Oracle financial infrastructure,” said Jones.  

Jones also touched on Casey’s continuing effort to expand its brick-and-mortar footprint. 

“In the past year, we opened almost 80 stores - 60 that were new build and 18 to 19 acquired from independent operators,” he said. “We have suspended guidance due to COVID-29, but in next three years we still plan to add a few hundred stores. For fiscal year 2021 we are slowing down slightly, but are currently on track with our expansion plans for 2022 and 2023. We have also sped up the expansion of grocery into nearly 600 of our stores.”

COVID-19 has additionally impacted Casey’s marketing efforts. 

“The summer promotion we had geared up is now under wraps until next year,” concluded Jones. “We had to amend our marketing communication, as the promotion included some unique elements that wouldn’t resonate in the current climate. We leaned into our timeless positioning of ‘Here for Good.’  Casey’s is an essential business and is still open on the frontline. We want to amplify what Casey’s does and give a thank you to our customers and the communities where we operate.”

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