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Gas station alerts consumers of price hikes via SMS

In an exercise that can be replicated nationwide, a gas station in Minnesota's Twin Cities is using SMS text messages to alert customers of hikes in gas prices.

Super Stop USA's full-service gas station, car wash and detail center is working with wireless promotions company Club Texting on the alerts that ask customers to text GAS to 25827 for price-increase notifications. Subscribers - opted-in customers - can also get Bonus Savings coupons to get anywhere from 5 to 10 cents off per gallon if the price has already gone up by the time they arrive.

"Super Stop wanted to have a way to get to its customers on the go, and the only way to do that is via mobile," said Amy Baglan, sales manager for Club Texting, New York. "Within the first week or two of doing this, the owner would recognize regulars coming to the station within an hour or two of sending out the text message."

A typical text message alert reads: "SUPER STOP GAS ALERT! Prices are rising to $2.99. We will follow soon. If we have already gone up, show us this message and save 10 cents/gal until 1pm tomorrow!"

The Superstop SMS campaign is supported by an opt-in customer email database and a Web site explaining the program and driving sign-ups via Club Texting's customizable widget, Word-of-mouth also generated participation.

The call to action asking people to text in was on in-store signage.

"Gas prices are such a sensitive issue right now that people were telling their friends and families and neighbors about this, so Super Stop USA has had a lot of success with that as well," Ms. Baglan said.

The campaign has achieved a response rate of about 20 percent, according to Ms. Baglan. This includes people who paid in the store and doesn't include the significant number who paid at the pump.

"Super Stop USA wanted people to opt-in on their own, because this is to their advantage too, and capitalize on the fact that it's able to notify them immediately about price changes and give them a call-to-action," Ms. Baglan said.

Club Texting manages all the outgoing and incoming messages for this campaign. Its other clients include Madison Square Garden and nightclubs such as Tao Las Vegas, Pacha New York City, Spearmint Rhino Gentlemen's Club, Coco Bongo, Sandbar in New Jersey and Yellow Rose in Austin, TX.

Current participating wireless carriers that work with Club Texting are AT&T Wireless, Verizon, Sprint-Nextel, T-Mobile, Alltel, Leap, US Cellular and Boost Mobile.

Another successful SMS campaign that Club Texting worked on was with Niche Media's Philly Style magazine.

The periodical used Club Texting to start a preferred reader club and offer members insider deals and discounts from participating advertisers via SMS, such as secret happy hours and a Valentine's Day scavenger hunt for an engagement ring.

Ms. Baglan said that using mobile for alerts can eliminate the printing costs of flyers and newsletters.

"Printing flyers can cost thousands of dollars a month, and in a few months of a text-messaging campaign, [a company can] eliminate the paper flyers," Ms. Baglan said. "You're giving a digital flyer directly to people who've opted in, so it's much more effective.

In the case of Super Stop, this campaign was another source of revenue.

"It's an additional revenue driver and they've been able to reach their target demographic: affluent 25-45-year-olds," Ms. Baglan said. "It's not the first group of people in the mobile landscape you'd think would use SMS, but they've had great success with it."

Club Texting sets clients' accounts and provides them with customer service, but each client manages its campaign completely on its own.

"If the client does it correctly and really puts in an effort, the response rate generally ranges between 40-60 percent," Ms. Baglan said.