How C-Stores Can Use SMS During the Holidays

The holiday season is always a good time for c-stores to run promotions. 

After all, the holidays have accounted for 19 percent of annual retail sales over the last five years. 

And despite the pandemic, predictions from the National Retail Federation are that holiday spending this year will be on par with 2019. 

And one of the best ways to drive sales during the holidays is through SMS marketing. 

Not only does SMS have the best engagement rate of any marketing channel, but it’s also trackable, immediate, and personal. 

So, we rounded up a list of ideas to help you maximize sales with text messaging.  

Here are 8 SMS marketing tactics you should be using for your c-store during the coming holidays. 

1. Use secret Santa offers to build your database 

Image credit: GSP Retail

The first step in SMS marketing is building a database of phone numbers. And one of the best ways to do this is by running a “keyword text-in” giveaway promotion. 

If you’re not too familiar with what this means, a “keyword text-in” giveaway promotion is when you ask customers to text a word to a certain number in order to win something. 

The image above, for example, shows a keyword text-in giveaway promotion by CEFCO last year. The signage tells consumers to “Text GIFT to 27640” to receive a prize (which in this case is a coupon for a free Snickers bar). 

In this case, 

  • “GIFT” is the keyword. 
  • “27640” is the shortcode. 
  • The Snickers bar is the giveaway item. 

Once consumers text the number, they’re opted-in to receive messages from you in the future. You can send an automatic reply (like the one below) providing the consumer with immediate gratification.  

Image credit: Neil Patel

Keyword giveaways are useful for two reasons: 

  1. Keywords simplify the opt-in process — because if consumers text a keyword, they’re automatically opting in. This is much easier than submitting their number online or through an order form because you’d have to send a confirmation message (which is often ignored or declined). So the keyword text-in is easier for them and will get you better results.  
  2. Giveaways provide extra incentive for consumers to take action and send the text. Getting something for free (even if it’s small) makes it feel worthwhile. 

The holidays are an especially good time to run this type of promotion because of the extra traffic and exposure in stores. Plus, there are so many fun giveaway ideas related to the holidays. 

One idea is a “Secret Santa” campaign. Like CEFCO’s promotion, you can give away small coupons and freebies as immediate Secret Santa gifts. 

For example, We Have a (Secret) Gift for You! Text SANTA to 99999! 

The immediate gratification with this type of giveaway can be super effective.

Plus, you can partner with CPG brands to cross-promote. For example, if you’re giving away Snickers bars, Snickers can promote the giveaway to their customer base, increasing your exposure and reaching more customers. 

Editor’s note: You can partner with a mobile technology company like Koupon to help you run promotions like this. We work with both CPG brands and c-stores to make it easy to launch digital promotions. 

2. Use “free for a year” offers to collect phone numbers


Image credit: Call Loop

Another great way to collect phone numbers is with a text-to-win contest. 

This strategy is similar to a giveaway except that the prize isn’t small, immediate, and certain. Instead, you’re offering a big prize, preferably something irresistible, and customers have to enter for a chance to win. 

One idea for such a prize is offering something “free for a year.” You could do something like: 

Enter to Win Free Coffee for a Year! Text SANTA to 99999!

Enter to Win Free Breakfast for a Year! Text SANTA to 99999!

Enter to Win Free Red Bull for a Year! Text SANTA to 99999! 

As with the giveaway promotion, the holidays are a great time to run this type of contest because of extra foot traffic. Since the goal of the contest is to get new subscribers, you want to reach as many new customers as possible. 

And if you choose to offer a CPG product as the freebie, you can partner with them to cross-promote. 

3. One promo text per day as a countdown to a holiday

Image credit: GetGo Cafe and Market

The holidays are a great time to run countdown promotions because they fit perfectly with the festive hustle and bustle of the season. 

And using text messaging makes it easy for busy shoppers to redeem coupons. 

A good example of a countdown promotion is SPINXMAS, from the South Carolina-based c-store chain, Spinx. 

For this promotion, Spinx announced new surprises on each day of SPINXMAS, which ran December 1st through Christmas Day. The surprises included everything from $1 breakfast biscuits to free Trans-Siberian Orchestra concert tickets. 

"We're so excited about this special promotion to bring a little extra fun and cheer to the holiday season at Spinx," said Stewart Spinks, founder and chairman of the board. "I hope all of our customers, friends, and fans visit our Facebook page and website to learn more about SPINXMAS and participate in the holiday fun!"

You could take this idea and add SMS marketing to the mix, sending daily messages promoting your specials and giveaways. 

You can also add in-store signage and social media to encourage new customers to opt-in using a keyword.  

4. “Countdown to New Year’s with us” with one new coupon per hour

Image credit: Kenosha News

New Year’s Eve is likely to be a big cultural moment this year, with most of us anxiously awaiting the end of 2020. 


Your store can tap into the excitement by running a countdown promotion on New Year’s Eve. The promotion can offer deals and prizes every hour leading up to midnight, and you can send them directly to customers using text messaging. 


Early in the day, you can offer specials on in-store items that are relevant to the holiday. These can include snack food, party platters, soda or drink mixes, energy drinks, decorations, or holiday swag (think 2021 glasses or headbands). 


As it gets later in the evening, you can mix in coupons redeemable the next day or announce prize winners. 

5. The good ol’ generic holiday-specific offers

Image credit: Cumberland Farms

People are accustomed to holiday-specific offers. But while they might seem generic or lacking in creativity, it doesn’t mean they’re not effective. 

In fact, Google reports that one-third of shoppers say promotions drove their holiday weekend purchases. 

And with so many businesses offering promos during this time, text messaging can help your offer cut through the noise. 

A popular promotion among c-stores is to offer free coffee on holidays. Yesway, Sheetz, and Cumberland Farms all do this. 

"Our free coffee holiday giveaway is our way of celebrating our loyal customers and thanking them for saying "yes" to Yesway this year," said Jeff Keune, senior vice president of foodservice and innovation. "We appreciate being welcomed by the communities we serve and hope to make our customers' holidays even brighter with this gift."


Image credit: Yesway

Another popular item that would be good for a holiday-specific offer is themed candy. Candy sales tend to spike four times annually: Valentine’s Day, Easter, Halloween, and the winter holidays. During those spikes, 16% of sales are generated by seasonal items. 

You can capitalize on this trend by bringing in seasonal varieties and running specials on them, promoted via SMS. Here’s an example of a message from Dominos. (Just replace pizza deals with candy deals.)

One last suggestion is to tempt shoppers with limited-time, holiday-themed store brand items. 7-Eleven is particularly good at this. Last year they offered shoppers 7-Select Holiday Frosted Sugar Cookies, 7-Select Popcorn Mixes, 7-Select gingerbread cookies, holiday candy, and more.

You can send existing customers SMS messages telling them when the new items are available, giving them “exclusive” access and special deals. 

6. A “healthy start to 2021” promotion

Image credit: Statistica

Health trends typically peak in January and February as people make New Year's resolutions. 

As you can see from the chart above, goals such as losing weight, eating healthier, and being more active were popular in 2020. This year is expected to be the same, maybe even more so given the pandemic. 

So running a “healthy start” promotion would be well received by most people in the new year. And with many c-stores already moving their food selections in a healthier direction, it would be a good time to promote those offerings. 

Wawa, for example, recently launched a new plant-based Sizzli Breakfast Sandwich made with Beyond Breakfast Sausage. 

“We’re pleased to offer Beyond Breakfast Sausage, a new and innovative plant-based protein option to our customers to continue fulfilling lives as a food and beverage destination for everyone,” said Mike Sherlock, Wawa’s chief product marketing officer. 

“We know that consumers are looking for more plant-based options, and we’re proud to partner with Beyond Meat, a leader in plant-based meat, to offer our customers more choice through the Wawa Your Way initiative.”

Image credit: Wawa

Other c-stores such as Kum and Go, Kwik Trip, and Sheetz have already joined the Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA). A PHA partnership means the retailer commits to offering healthier products to its customers, such as fresh fruit and vegetables, grab-and-go items, beverages, prepared food, and more.

So, if you already have healthy selections in your store, the end of the holiday season (after New Year’s) is a good time to start promoting them. You can send messages inspiring your customers to make healthy choices and offering specials on related products. 

For example, “Get off to a healthy start in 2021! Click here for $1 off our new plant-based breakfast sandwich!”

7. Text social distancing party ideas featuring your offers

Image credit:

There’s no doubt that the holidays are going to be strange and difficult this year. Many people won’t be able to celebrate with family as usual, given social distancing recommendations. 

So, virtual and socially distanced gatherings will likely take center stage as we head into the holiday season. To help customers through this time while also promoting your products, you can text them party ideas that relate to your promotions. 

Here are some party ideas along with product pairings: 

  • Contactless cookie exchange - holiday-themed cookies
  • Virtual game night - snack food, soda, and energy drinks
  • Netflix party with holiday movies - popcorn and candy
  • Outdoor scavenger hunt for kids - toys, trinkets, candy, hot chocolate
  • Hosted wine/beer tasting - cheese and crackers for wine, chips and beef jerky for beer
  • Virtual escape rooms - energy drinks and snack food
  • Outdoor ice skating party - hand warmers, coffee, and hot chocolate 

8. Text customers some holiday gift ideas featuring your offers

Image credit: PR Newswire

We all know that the holidays are an extremely busy time of year. And we’ve all struggled to find the perfect gift (or even just an “ok” gift) for someone on our list. 

You can connect with customers by sending gift ideas that you carry in-store. 

7-Eleven does a great job of stocking gift items around the holidays. They carry toys, gaming gift cards for teenagers, gift cards for teachers and co-workers, pre-wrapped and unusual items for white elephant gift exchanges, holiday party food and beverages, sweet treats, and stocking stuffers. They even offer a Hallmark limited-edition Slurpee cup ornament. 

"7-Eleven stores are ready to answer almost any holiday need, whether customers are shopping in advance or running in to grab an unexpected gift or emergency item such as batteries at the last minute," said Jack Stout, 7-Eleven senior vice president. 

"Our stores may be small in size, but there are a lot of holiday helps packed in that small space. We find that our customers have lots of 'Oh Thank Heaven' moments this time of year."


SMS marketing during the holidays can be a powerful way for c-stores to drive sales and boost engagement.

Here’s a wrap up of strategies you can use to make the most of it: 

  1. Do a “Secret Santa” promotion to build your database
  2. Run a “Free for a year” contest to collect phone numbers
  3. Run a countdown promotion featuring an offer per day
  4. Do a countdown to New Year’s promotion giving away something every hour
  5. Use holiday-specific offers
  6. Start a “healthy start to 2021” campaign
  7. Text socially distant party ideas that feature your products
  8. Send gift ideas featuring your products

Best of luck and happy (early) holidays!