Creating Convenient Customer Experiences in Retail
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Creating Convenient Customer Experiences in Retail

Derek Gaskins, Chief Marketing Officer, Yesway
Derek Gaskins, Chief Marketing Officer, Yesway

Derek Gaskins, Chief Marketing Officer, Yesway

As a retailer, Yesway spans the entire gamut of consumer retail. We are a convenience retail chain with a strong focus on foodservice. Foodservice, private label and loyalty programs are the pillars and engines of our brand. We go to market with that as our focus and average over a thousand customer transactions per store per day across 400- plus stores in a nine-state geographic region. We are committed to growth, both in terms of store count and inside sales, as well as growing customer and consumer engagement.

When it comes to serving the role of chief marketing officer at Yesway, what does a typical day look like for you?

For us marketers, there is no typical day. To get to the core of our roles, we deal with the classic four Ps of marketing— Product, Price, Place, and Promotion. I’ve broadened it to six Ps with People and Process. As for People, it would be my team and team members in our stores as well as our customers, while Process would be “how we do what we do”, and making sure we have playbooks and well-defined processes to advance our strategic merchandising and marketing initiatives.

Like every other marketer, we’re looking to create content that is more engaging and dynamic, complete with imagery, video, music, and messaging. We’re installing digital screens in our stores and also have video and messaging at our fuel pumps. Our focus is on leveraging marketing strategies and technology to improve the experience of customers or make it more convenient.

In your opinion, what are the recent changes and new things that have emerged in the retail marketplace?

Multiple things have taken place in the past 18 to 24 months, primarily due to COVID-19. I call the COVID-19 era the Acceleration Age because, as marketers, we’ve accelerated things that were on our roadmap. For us at Yesway, it is mobile ordering and payment, curbside delivery, or activating the drive-throughs in about 40 of our stores. We’ve even considered third-party delivery to enhance our customers’ convenience.

"In This Acceleration Age, You Have To Be Nimble, Agile, Flexible, Frugal, And Fast—All At Once "

In essence, the consumer’s definition of convenience has changed. They want what they want, when they want it, which is oftentimes now. They want a frictionless checkout experience while making online purchases, preferably through their phones. In light of this development, the questions that arise in every retailer’s mind are—how to make our mobile app more seamless and improve the consumer experience or the customer experience? How can we make checkouts faster through self-checkout? Or even in traditional checkouts, can we speed it up with technology and our app? The goal is to deliver frictionless and contactless convenience as the needs of consumers continues to evolve.

What kind of pain points or challenges are retailers facing today?

The biggest pain point is integration. There are different and disparate technology modules, and companies usually have one or few of them at a time. Some retailers may have a good white label or a custom mobile app, while others may have a good interface that enables third-party delivery for sending out orders with Door Dash or Uber Eats, or GrubHub. Someone else may have perfected self-checkout, while others have a mobile and online ordering module. However, the issue is that these modules are usually not integrated with the point of sale (PoS) or retailers’ ERP systems and back-office solutions. This requires deploying a combination of manual processes as well as automation to help accomplish the integration, which is a huge challenge.

What would be your advice to retailers or your colleagues and peers as to what they can do to build competent marketing processes in their organizations?

First and foremost, retailers must never lose sight of the customer and maintain the basics and underlying fundamentals of business, which is customer experience. Customers want to have a satisfactory experience with you. They want products and services that are reasonably valued and priced—and you can control those.

The second part is to relentlessly test, improve, test again, fail fast, and figure out what can work for you, your brand, and your customers to ensure growth. Do not be averse to risk. Now is the time to test and make sure you figure it out because there is no clear roadmap. And in this Acceleration Age, you have to be nimble, agile, flexible, frugal, and fast—all at once.

The third thing is to make sure you create opportunities within your team for diversity in its broadest sense, along with equity and inclusion. This includes giving a voice to diverse races, ethnicities, genders, ages, thoughts, and experiences. It also involves ensuring the younger members and the more seasoned members of your team can speak up to address some of these challenges. This will help you become a better marketer.

I believe marketing can be taken to be more like science. The scientific part of marketing is being an observer. I often say that if you’re a people scientist, you’re a good marketer. You understand what motivates people to buy. And in this case, that requires putting your finger on diversity and making it part of the strategies that make you a better marketer since you’re getting a broader set of feedback.

The fourth and final is being relentlessly focused on growth in terms of profitable growth. A marketer’s job is to drive profitable sales, and you can drive sales through multiple stakes—promos, contests, and giveaways. So, knowing the roles of your product categories and how to leverage certain products and combine services to drive profitability will make you ultimately the most effective marketer.

What do you think would dictate the future of marketing in the coming months?

The next 18 months will continue to be similarly fast-paced as in the recent past. Flexibility and agility are the two qualities that made marketers successful during these past months, and those are even more crucial as we look to the coming months. So, being flexible and agile—to be not only proactive but also reactive when necessary to meet your consumers’ changing needs—are the decisive factors that will dictate retailers’ success going forward.  

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