July 10, 2019

The Marketing Genius Behind Free Slurpee Day

Written By
Andrei Faji
How Free Slurpees and Beachside Delivery Keep 7‑Eleven Customers Coming Back

What can retailers learn from the world’s first convenience store? 7-Eleven came from humble beginnings. Opening in 1927 in Dallas, Texas, it started selling everyday staples from the dock of an icehouse. And its ability to stay relevant from the Silent Generation through today’s Gen Z consumers is reason marketers should be paying attention to it. 

After nearly a century since its founding, 7-Eleven consistently holds the No. 1 spot as the largest U.S. convenience store with more than 9,000 locations. And even more importantly, the convenience store has cultivated a loyal (almost cult-like) following over the years that other brands strive to achieve.  

Its upcoming free Slurpee Day is one of the best examples of just how powerful customer loyalty can be. Launched in 2002, 7‑Eleven’s annual free Slurpee Day has risen to the ranks of a national holiday,  complete with social fanfare and a countdown to the big day on Slurpee’s own Twitter feed

So, how did 7-Eleven take what was once an ordinary day and turn it into an anticipated summer holiday? Here are a few lessons marketers can take away from 7-Eleven: 

  • Giveaways work. Giveaways can be a powerful tool for garnering customer loyalty. In fact, 87 percent of consumers are more likely to shop somewhere that rewards them. Judging from the success of Free Slurpee Day, 7-Eleven knows the power of a giveaway better than anyone. Last year alone, 7-Eleven saw a 43 percent increase in store traffic the week of Free Slurpee Day. 
  • Customer loyalty matters: Only 42 percent of consumers feel valued by fast food restaurants, and only 50 percent feel valued by gas stations, leaving these particular retail categories an opportunity to win over the hearts and minds of customer loyalists. 7-Eleven understood this, and launched its loyalty program 7Rewards. On free Slurpee Day, the chain is making sure their 7Rewards members feel extra special by giving them a rebate for a free Slurpee. 
  • Digital innovation is key: While 7-Eleven’s Slurpee Day has already won over consumers far and wide, it continues to stay relevant. This year, 7‑Eleven updated its smartphone app to allow customers to receive deliveries to just about anywhere, whether it be a park, beach, sports arena, entertainment venue or other public locations that lacks a conventional address. This allows 7-Eleven to extend its presence outside the four walls of a store. Free Slurpee Day itself is now nearly old enough to vote, but the idea of a few clicks on a phone and Slurpee delivery arriving minutes later is brand new. 
  • Make it fun. Social media is another important aspect of Free Slurpee Day’s rise to fame. Whether at the beach or picnicking in a park, thanks to social media, Slurpee fans can follow the big countdown to July 11 on Slurpee’s own Twitter feed, which has more than 25,000 followers and is separate from 7‑Eleven's official Twitter account.  These accounts help build buzz in the lead up to the holiday, encouraging customers to share their fandom and even talk about their favorite flavors: is Coke or wild cherry the favorite? 

While 7-Eleven was certainly the first to build the kind of fandom needed to make its own national holiday, it’s not the last. Amazon’s upcoming Prime Day is another example of a day that belongs just to a brand, and KFC’s “Kentucky Fried Christmas” in Japan has become an annual tradition in the country. 

If you look at the common denominator across these, it’s customer loyalty. According to Deloitte,  increasing customer loyalty by just 5 percent boosts profits by 25 to 95 percent. All three of these brands have used the power of rewards, digital innovation, and an in-depth understanding of their customer to cultivate a customer base so loyal, they’ve created their own holidays. 


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