Florida retailer Sunshine Gasoline leads the U.S. convenience industry with app solutions for customer convenience and loyalty.
Sunshine Gasoline Distributors, based in southern Florida and established in 1987, supplies fuel to 536 gas stations and operates nearly 400 of those sites, earning the twentieth place on CSP’s Top 202 Convenience Store Chains in 2022. Stations operate under leading fuel retail brands Chevron, Shell, Exxon, Mobil and Marathon.
Sunshine Gasoline Distributors, Inc. opened its doors for business in 1987 and has been growing with the South Florida community ever since. The company was founded by owner and president, Maximo Alvarez, a Cuban native who transplanted to Miami at the age of thirteen. Sunshine is a generous contributor to the South Floridian and Cuban communities through a number of charities.
Sunshine is an Industry Technology Leader
In 2021, Sunshine became one of the world’s first convenience retailers to offer a subscription program for unlimited car washing at their Max Car Wash sites. Sunshine Gasoline joined other national and global industry leaders in making car washing quicker, easier, and frictionless for customers who love the contactless concept.
While Sunshine’s sites operate under the fuel brand names, all of their onsite car washes are branded Max Car Wash. Max Car Wash has focused on putting customers first as well as keeping sustainability top of mind using biodegradable soap. Max is “proud of each step [they] take to ensure that not only is your car clean, but our surrounding community as well.”
Fresh off the successful car wash subscription app, in late 2022 Sunshine upgraded its Max Carwash App to Sunshine Brand featuring a special fuel pay program. The program was released across the retailer’s locations earlier this year.
In a highly unique decision, Sunshine opted to accept only ACH transactions on the fuel pay app. This decision not to accept credit cards on the fuel pay app is exceptional because card processing fees in the U.S. are incredibly high.
Exorbitant Credit Card Fees Send Retailers In Search of Better Options
The banking system in the United States is drastically different than the rest of the world, especially as it pertains to credit card processing for retailers and service providers. American retailers pay incredibly high credit card processing fees, called interchange fees or swipe fees. In fact, convenience stores and fueling retailers, unfortunately, pay the highest swipe fees of all U.S. retail channels.
According to the Merchants Payments Coalition, an advocacy group representing retailers of all sectors, “U.S. merchants were charged nearly $138 billion to process credit and debit card transactions in 2021. That was up 25% from the year before and more than double the amount 10 years earlier, and the cost is growing quickly.”
U.S. convenience retailers pay on average 2.2% of every transaction to credit card companies. This is more than seven times the 0.30% fee in Europe, more than four times the 0.45% and 0.50% fees in China and Australia, respectively, and a little more than twice Canada’s 1.4% capped fee.
For U.S. retailers, credit card fees are the second highest expense behind labor. So, finding any kind of relief can make an enormous difference. For fuel retailers, high fuel prices make it incredibly tough to close the day’s books with a profit once expenses are factored in. Everything from higher product costs to credit card fees and everything in between lessens hopes of profitability.
One way retailers can avoid paying such exorbitant swipe fees is by accepting only ACH bank debit payments instead of credit cards. Another uniquely U.S. payment system, ACH (Automated Clearing House), is an electronic funds-transfer system that facilitates payments in the U.S. ACH is also known as direct deposit, direct pay, and electronic checks. Incidentally, American consumers still exchange paper checks for payment and deposits as well as cash.
Credit Card Acceptance Costs U.S. Retailers
According to a NACS consumer survey, 86% of customers pay by credit card and despite attempts to incentivize consumers to pay with cash, customers flat-out prefer to pay with cards. And, customers like mobile apps. They like the convenience they offer and more importantly, the savings they represent. In fact, “51% of smartphone users are more likely to use a company or brand’s mobile app when browsing or shopping on a smartphone because they can get rewards or points,” according to a 2019 survey by Google/Ipsos U.S.
Credit card giants Visa and Mastercard increased interchange fees in 2022 and retailers are taking action and sending a message by migrating their customers to new solutions, including mobile app-based ACH payments, and in the process increasing profits by not only reducing credit card fees but also boosting loyalty via innovative app-based incentive programs.
Sunshine Gasoline Mitigates Excessive Swipe Fees
“At Sunshine Gasoline, we strive to give our fuel and convenience customers a fast, easy, and enjoyable experience whenever they visit our stores. We strive to be more than just a fuel provider to our customers, we sell time and convenience and by offering the opportunity to quickly fuel up, pay and be on their way, we will be rewarding them with extra minutes in their day and savings in their wallets with the discounts they receive,” says Eddy Alvarez, Owner at Sunshine Gasoline Distributors..
Eddy continues, “we want them to feel valued and know that their data security is of utmost importance which is why we partnered with Liquid Barcodes to develop this app. We only accept ACH payments and not credit cards to allow us to pass on the savings from credit card fees directly to the customer on every gallon. This app is a game-changer for our organization.”
Sunshine is an early adopter to use the new Liquid Barcodes proprietary program C-StorePay to quickly authenticate bank account information in five steps that take less than a couple minutes to complete and authenticate. Other apps in the convenience and fuel retailing industry require upwards of thirteen steps, collecting many points of personal data, and include a 2-day waiting period for bank authorization.
While paying for fuel on an app isn’t new to the market, this seamless, easy payment processing is something the convenience industry has not yet experienced.
During fuel pay transactions, Sunshine’s customers are also prompted to buy carwash subscription plans or single wash vouchers via the app in the same transaction, thus saving both time and money and deriving more from their visit to the location.
Retail leaders like Maxol in Ireland have found that customers prefer to pay for fuel by their phones. Maxol released FuelPay in early 2022 which allows customers to simply drive up, choose their store and pump location on the app, then click and pay directly through the stored payment method on their phone. Several U.S. retailers such as Kum & Go, Cumberland Farms, and Casey’s also have an app solution for fuel payment.
The Convenience Industry is Watching
In February 2023, Eddy Alverez hosted a number of retailers at a Sunshine Miami, Florida location. More than a dozen retailers witnessed the app in action and heard why and how Alverez chose only to accept ACH transactions for payment.
Retail attendees were impressed. Overheard were comments such as “twenty seconds for connecting bank account versus two days is a significant improvement” and “that is what I call frictionless.” Another attendee commented, “I did not know you could cross-sell within the same transaction!”
Happy Customers = Revenue
Time is money and saving both is extremely important to ensure happy customers. In an uncertain economy, consumers around the world are excited to receive discounts to alleviate the costs of necessary items like food and fuel. Rewarding customers for their loyalty not only makes them feel recognized but will keep them coming back for more.
About Liquid Barcodes
Liquid Barcodes is a leading global loyalty and digital marketing technology company specializing in the convenience and foodservice industries. The proprietary, cloud-based technology platform allows retailers to create and manage their digital marketing campaigns with a process called the “customer connection cycle’ to engage, promote and reward customers’ activities in real-time across digital and media channels.
Liquid Barcodes loyalty platform is powering loyalty programs for industry leaders across several global markets, by offering unique subscription, mobile payment, machine learning, personalization, gamification, loyalty, and other capabilities.
Learn more about Liquid Barcodes at LiquidBarcodes.com.
About the Author
Carolyn Schnare, Chief Content Officer, Liquid Barcodes
Carolyn Schnare has been involved with the convenience retailing industry for two decades with extensive knowledge of customer engagement and marketing, sustainability, and community outreach. Prior to Liquid Barcodes, Schnare worked at NACS (National Association of Convenience Stores) in a variety of roles from event production to membership and most recently as Director of Strategic Initiatives and host and producer of the popular industry podcast, Convenience Matters. Schnare currently anchors the popular Shop Talk LIVE! video series produced by Global Convenience Store Focus media group.