Q&A: Scott Wetzel, Excentus' VP of marketing

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The mention of a grocery store loyalty program might conjure thoughts of cost-conscious shoppers toting membership cards that entitle them to discounts on mundane household items like toilet paper.

But in 2003, Giant Eagle -- a supermarket chain in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland -- teamed up with Irving, Texas-based technology firm Excentus Corp. to create “fuelperks,” a rewards program that allows customers to earn discounts on gasoline.

Today, Excentus specializes in fuel-site marketing programs and has helped expand fuelperks to several states, supermarket chains and fuel companies. On July 7, Winn-Dixie launched the program in south Louisiana. With every $50 purchase, shoppers earn 5 cents per gallon off a future gas purchase. A $100 grocery bill earns 10% off; $150 gets 15%, and $200 saves 20%.

Scott Wetzel, Excentus' VP of marketing, discussed the fuelperks program with DMNews.

DMNews: Excentus has partnered with several grocery store chains and gas stations for its fuelperks rewards program. How did this get started?

Scott Wetzel: Giant Eagle was the first one to launch the fuelperks program. They did that in 2003. What we were doing there is we were the technology provider for them. And then what we did with them was decided to take the program national into a coalition format. So we started in 2008 working with Roundy's and some other guys, too.

In addition to Giant Eagle with the fuelperks program, we've got Roundy's, which has several banners up in the Wisconsin and Minnesota markets. Then we have BI-LO in the Carolinas. We have Winn-Dixie, of course (in Florida and Louisiana). Then we have Martin's operating out of Richmond, Virginia.

DMNews: Obviously, the incentive for the supermarkets is to keep their customers coming back. But isn't this indirectly creating a loyalty program, too, for participating gas stations?

Wetzel: Absolutely. It doesn't create more cars. It's directing them to one place where they can redeem their rewards. Typically, there is one fuel partner in a market, sometimes more. But yeah, it drives traffic. We've seen site traffic and volume increase 20 to 50% for the fuel sites that are participating, and of course, the in-store sales follow as well.

DMNews: So even if Shell is giving a 5% discount on gas, they're making money in the end?

Wetzel: The discounts are actually paid by the grocers.

DMNews: Why is this program a winner?

Wetzel: We were actually asked to do it by Giant Eagle. And from the day they launched the fuelperks program, their customers went crazy over it. It's because gasoline is kind of the ultimate commodity. You know the price. It's posted on every corner. You have to buy it at least once a week. The way the program works is you get this instant gratification as you watch the price roll down in front of your eyes, and it's like winning the lottery.

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