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7-Eleven catching up fast in boosting the customer experience

7-Eleven hasn't been a major force when it comes to digital innovation but it’s working hard to make up for lost time and striving to establish itself as a digital technology front runner.

7-Eleven catching up fast in boosting the customer experience

| by Judy Mottl — Editor, &

7-Eleven hasn't been a major force when it comes to digital innovation but it's working hard to make up for lost time and striving to establish itself as a digital technology front runner.

In fact, the 87-year-old convenience store brand only embarked on its first "digital journey" three years ago, and named a chief digital officer just three months ago.

"7-Eleven is new to the digital journey. We realized we need to have a presence [with mobile device users and customers] and it's taken us awhile,” acknowledged Dawn Gillis, senior director, IT operations and customer service for 7-Eleven, Inc. "And we have a lot more [work] going forward."

Yet while that may be true the past few years have been busy ones for the Texas-based retailer which operates, franchises or licenses more than 61,000 stores across 17 countries. There are 10,900 stores in North America.

In 2015, it took big steps regarding mobile apps. Its 7Rewards loyalty app offers customers incentives for buying any 7‑Eleven beverage. For every six drinks purchased, the seventh is free. The app also offers exclusive offers and allows users to share experience feedback with the company. The brand also offers a Bill Pay app that lets consumers pay bills at 7-Eleven stores.

In 2015 it launched on-demand delivery effort through a partnership with Postmates, starting in San Francisco and Austin, and a another deal with DoorDash. It branched out that strategy to college campuses with a deal with Tapingo.

Just last July it teamed up with Flirtey, a drone delivery service, and celebrated the chain's 89th birthday with the first home drone delivery event.

The app effort, said Gillis, is already driving big changes in relation to interactions between associates and consumers and providing 7-Eleven with data that is helping the brand improve its customer experience. While it's in its early stage, the brand's data focus is on solid footing and the brand is identifying what steps are next.

"We have to get maniacal about getting customer focused," said Gillis.

"It's important to us to offer a better value for the customers, and it's a big way to get quality products and create value," Gillis shared during a panel talk, "Creating MEaningful Experiences—Unifying Digital Journeys," at the recent NRF Big Show held at the Javits Convention Center in New York City.

Those products include its popular Big Gulp and Slurpee items and are the focal point of a strategic push to build the brands, Gillis added, as well as using the app to pair promotions of 7-Eleven brands with other products.

Another top priority going forward is to spur 7-Eleven, and its private product brands, into the top tier of online search.

"We haven't done much [with that] and its now part of our digital strategy," noted Gillis.

Another future quest is establishing 7-Eleven presence at airports.

"We’re focused on locations and expansion and getting to know more about the customer," she said, estimating "it will take five years to get in a real comfortable position" regarding customer insight.

"It’s about engaging customer on the right level at the right time," she said.

7-Eleven's size has been a big challenge in moving quickly with digital technology, explained Gillis.

"It's one reason why we have been slow in getting customer engagement and management programs going," she said.

That because the focus is developing and implementing digital tech across the entire organization.

"It can't just be technology or tool focused," said Gillis.

Want to learn more about retail customer experience innovations, and hear insight from retailers making it happen? Register for the ICX Association’s annual Interactive Customer Experience Summit happening June 5-7 at the Four Seasons Resort and Club in Dallas. Check out the agenda, register here.

Judy Mottl

Judy Mottl is editor of Retail Customer Experience and Food Truck Operator. She has decades of experience as a reporter, writer and editor covering technology and business for top media including AOL, InformationWeek and InternetNews.

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