‘Play or Park’ by Circle K

Paula Thomas, Chief Content Officer, Liquid Barcodes


As one of the largest convenience retailers in the world, there is a huge amount that can be learnt from Couche-Tard and its business and loyalty strategies. From humble origins in Canada in 1980, to its current network of over 15,000 stores globally, there can be no doubt about the success of its vision.

Couche-Tard promises to ‘make life easy’ for customers, with over 6 million people each day buying fuel and other necessities from its convenience stores worldwide.

Many of the stores that operate under the Circle K brand have been acquired from market leaders such as Statoil in Northern Europe and Topaz in Ireland, requiring significant investment and time to re-brand successfully. Yesterday saw the beginning of the end of the Topaz brand in Ireland as it takes its turn rolling out the convenience giant’s identity, having been acquired in late 2015.

The extensive store footprint will eventually see Circle K colours across 30% of Ireland’s total convenience store network, so with such dramatic brand changes in the air, we are taking the opportunity to assess the potential implications on its loyalty programme.

The Topaz loyalty programme called ‘Play or Park’ has been running in Ireland since 2013 to much industry acclaim. Billed as the first loyalty programme in Europe to use gamification as its central strategy, its roll of honour includes the following domestic and international convenience and loyalty awards:

Circle K is an exciting new retail brand in the Irish market – a country renowned as one of the most sophisticated convenience retailing markets in the world, so it will be fascinating to see whether the loyalty programme they inherited from Topaz will survive, or perhaps it might even emerge as the global loyalty solution for a company that prides itself on stealing ideas from colleagues worldwide.

Case Study:

Having made a firm decision to get closer to their customers in 2013, Topaz invested in professional loyalty strategy development and marketing communications expertise to achieve a truly differentiated proposition that would drive measurable consumer behaviour.

Leanne Papaioannou and her loyalty strategy agency Chill Pepper Marketing were supported by senior management and board members within Topaz – an essential ingredient for success. Together they worked with two agencies – Target McConnells and PHD to develop the ‘Play or Park’ brand. A detailed case study of the programme objectives is available here, with key insights as follows:

  1. Fuel is a grudge purchase, and with a competitor fuel points/rewards programme already in existence in the Irish market, the key objective of the loyalty programme brief was to give customers a compelling and consistent reason to choose Topaz as their preferred fuel provider. Topaz has a policy of charging premium prices as its fuel is proven to be a higher quality product – but customers rarely understood that.
  2. The programme objectives were highly commercial, covering all areas such as increasing basket spend and maintaining market share in a declining market. The team was clear that only by truly engaging customers would they achieve both the short-term and also their longer-term goals that included ambitious member registrations, customer data quality, and rewards claimed. Furthermore, loyalty experts consider programmes successful only when the brands’ ‘net promoter score’ measurably improves.



A management presentation details the key considerations within the brief, including:

  1. The fuel and convenience sector is characterized by razor thin margins, making loyalty a potentially prohibitively expensive proposition.
  2. Topaz stations and stores were 50% company owned and 50% franchised. Any solution proposed needed the full support of all stakeholders.
  3. Point-of-sale systems were varied, outdated and often challenging to integrate.
  4. Commercially, many CFO’s are nervous about the need to accrue significant revenues for future rewards.



While numerous concepts were developed and tested in qualitative research, a gamification strategy emerged as the only programme idea that customers actually loved! In addition to the ‘Play or Park’ game creating a moment of enjoyment in a task seen otherwise as routine and mundane, it also allowed the business to plan and budget for exciting customer rewards that customers were keen to spend and minimize the need for long-term cash accruals.

Programme Mechanics:

  • Both fuel purchase and convenience store purchases are awarded points in Topaz stores nationwide. One point is awarded per litre of fuel purchased, four points per euro spent in store.
  • Every 200 points earned means an opportunity to play the game! The headline prize is one ‘experience of a lifetime’ each month. PLUS, everyone who enters gets a FREE Treat in store (to incentivise playing, engagement and regular points burn).
  • Both plastic cards and digital cards using QR codes are available to choose from.
  • Every Topaz store is fitted with a QR code reader to ensure programme participation is maximized.



In addition to the business and brand benefits from the many awards and accolades, customers clearly love the programme too! The remarkable conclusions of the independent research commissioned by the marketing agencies stated:

  1. In November 2013, it states that 23% of customers have now “switched to Topaz” due to ‘PLAY or PARK’ and
  2. 26% of customers now “only choose to fill up in Topaz” due to ‘PLAY or PARK’



  • ‘Play or Park’ is a simple, clear and fun loyalty programme.
  • The programme had board level buy-in, sufficient investment and clear goals.
  • Research was included at the outset (to test ideas and concepts) and post-launch (to measure success).
  • Front life staff were excited about the idea and ensured adoption at the point of purchase.
  • Downloads were incentivized with enough points to play immediately for the experience of a lifetime!


  • One area of improvement for the programme is simply that member engagement with the game is not frequent enough. Members only get to play when they have 200 points. If they don’t, it may be a couple of months before the actively engage with the programme. There are many more ways that customers could play rather than park and offer much more frequent fun to members. For example, our ‘live loyalty’ approach allows you to spin the wheel yourself or scratch and win instantly. What if you could spin a wheel within the game every day (even without having 200 points) to try to win a free treat – a strategy that manufacturers may support as part of their sampling objectives when new products launch. This offers much more ‘surprise and delight’ opportunities with customers, and it’s also likely that customers would pick up some additional purchases while claiming their unexpected reward! As this is nearly a five year-old programme, it seems like a good time for Play or Park to be even further improved to build active and engaged digital distribution,  to drive daily app openings and more opportunities to connect.


Closing Thoughts:

The game mechanic for ‘Play or Park’ is fantastic. It’s incredibly simple and proves the power of listening to customers and making it easy for them to see the programme benefits.

A combination of instant gratification, complete company buy-in and investments in both technology and communication have ensured this programme is a truly best-in-class example of what’s possible when it comes to engaging customers.

Only time will tell whether Irish customers will continue to enjoy the benefits of ‘Play or Park’ as it is, whether it might be improved even further, or whether Circle K will see fit to introduce it’s Easy Rewards programme to the market instead. For now, ‘Play or Park’ remains prominently and proudly on the website. Watch this space and we’ll keep you updated!

If, like Topaz and Circle K, you are focused on truly engaging your customers and you want to build your loyalty program using innovative  mechanics like those that make up the Play or Park program, please contact us.

Live loyalty offers exciting gamification and leading-edge solutions to create a compelling strategy that ensures you engage and connect with your customers.


About Us:

Liquid Barcodes is a leading global loyalty and digital marketing technology company specialized for the convenience store and foodservice industries. Our proprietary cloud-based technology platform allow retailers to create and manage their digital marketing campaigns with a proprietary process we call the “customer connection cycle’ to engage, promote and reward customers activities in real-time across digital and media channels.

How we do it:

We have developed the most advanced loyalty and digital marketing technology platform specifically for convenience store and foodservice retailers globally.

Retailers use our self-service dashboard to create and manage loyalty driven marketing campaigns that increase purchases with their existing customers, as well as effectively target and acquire new customers through partners or paid media channels.

One core component of live loyalty is gamification. We have gamified branding, loyalty and promotions. We believe this approach is essential in order to get customers’ attention and ultimately truly engage them with repeatable actions thereby winning their loyalty.

Check out some of our exciting/proven results here:


About Me:

Paula Thomas

Chief Content Officer, Liquid Barcodes and Independent Loyalty Consultant

With over twenty-five years marketing experience, I specialise in loyalty marketing consulting, managing consumer loyalty propositions, strategy and operations. In addition to working with Liquid Barcodes, my clients have included Telefonica O2, Three Mobile, Electric Ireland, Allied Irish Bank and The Entertainer, as well as Avios – the global points currency for some of the world’s top airlines. I am also a judge for the Loyalty Magazine Awards. 



Future of loyalty newsletter

Sign up for our newsletter, and don’t miss a thing. You will receive email newsletters with our latest blog articles, case stories, and ideas-to-go.

E-mail address