Picture this. It’s Boston. It’s snowing. It’s February (or maybe it’s May, because it’s still snowing in Boston). A driver has to pull over and get gas. The fingers and mind tremble at the thought of getting out of the car to pay, to get the coffee on the trudge to and from the convenience store. It’s the kind of commerce that engenders no joy.
Another scenario: A driver has their kids in the car. Back in the booster seats, the little angels are channeling a little bit of, well, fire and brimstone. Wailing and gnashing of teeth is biblical in its intensity. Does that parent want to stop to get water, toilet paper and milk — and unbuckle the kids from their restraints? Nah. Didn’t think so.
Fortunately, the connected car is a savior to frictionless commerce — at the pump and beyond.
In the latest Topic TBD, CEO Donald Frieden of mobile commerce firm P97 told Karen Webster that the marriage of journeys — the literal ones across daily commutes and errands, and the journeys of payments and transactions moving from digital wallets to merchants’ tills — are blending seamlessly. So much so that P97 will go live this week with one of the largest fuel retailers in the United States, across 10,000 U.S. gas locations in tandem with one of the country’s largest auto manufacturers. The firms are eyeing a confluence of mobile commerce, digital marketing and ease of payments.
Simply put, said Frieden, the car now “becomes an extension of the consumer’s home” across retail, fuel and convenience stores.
The Available Data
The data is out there, said the executive, with unprecedented access to drive patterns, the number of fill-ups that a consumer conducts in a given period of time and other buying behaviors. Even these can be broken down, granularly, to the vehicle type, customer demographic and grades of fuel consumed. Add the cloud into the mix and the data between the dashboard, wallet, pump and rewards programs flows seamlessly and in real time — giving merchants insight into what consumers/commuters need, including the where and when.
“We call these companion apps,” he said of the mobile conduits, which are gaining traction and being deployed by Frieden’s firm. “So, these will be the apps on the phone. These have particular use cases already. For instance: finding my car in the parking lot or I want to start my car, or I want to unlock my car.”
In a commerce continuum, the mobile app allows the consumer to, in essence, “extend their car” as one exits their auto. These consumers want the same rich experience powered through tech if they are, for instance, going into a convenience store or brick-and-mortar retailer.
The biggest driver for the connected car, said Frieden, is recognizing the importance of the millennial market and the technologically-enabled ways that millennials buy what they need.
“So, if we look at millennials,” he said, “they have $400 billion in buying power today. And these merchants and retailers are recognizing that, over the course of the next two to three years, that $400 billion is going to inflate to something like $1.2 trillion.”
For P97, efforts have evolved beyond initial fueling activities, with a goal of true hands-free commerce.
“It’s about the journey and all the things that get done during the day,” he said.
The company is taking a cue from Netflix, he stated. “By taking traditional content rails, and then injecting them with new tailor-made content, we see ourselves fast becoming, sort of, the Netflix of value-added services for ... fuels, lubes [and maintenance] convenience, and just general retail.”
By way of illustration: Consider that the car, sensing it is getting low on fuel, will do far more than just flash a yellow light. It will notify the driver of the nearby preferred station. When the driver arrives at that station, P97 will — using geolocation services and geofencing — recognize that vehicle and initiate the fuel purchase.
“This includes the pre-authorization for the payment, done literally in seconds now … we can actually activate the fuel dispenser, which included this pre-authorization, request and look up accounts for that consumer, and applying the [payments] discount,” he told Webster.
Consumers can redeem offers from the car or have orders delivered right to their trunk (the milk and toilet paper described at the beginning of the article). Frieden said, “This is how brick-and-mortar is going to compete against two-hour delivery from Amazon.”
Establishing The Binding Connection
As for the movement beyond fueling to buying goods and other services, Frieden explained that the company establishes preferred locations by a concept called binding.
“We try to minimize the number of decisions made during the driving process — ideally, we’d like to minimize that to the number three,” he told Webster. In this instance, they would “bind” consumers to three different fuel brands, keeping individuals informed of discounts and promotions, which, in turn, can be accessed with voice commands or dashboard controls, underpinned by artificial intelligence (AI).
With AI, he surmised, “not only can we know when they wash their car, but ... let's just say that they went online and bought their movie tickets. So, it's going to be a date night. And wouldn't it be nice if my car says, 'Hey, it's date night. Here's a car wash for close to you'?”
Car maintenance? Integrating the data with service providers (such as garages) means that cars can be directed to optimal locations, based on shorter lines — Frieden likened it to using crowdsourced data. As for security, the executive noted that P97 has been working with the card networks to create a transaction cloaked in tokenization, a vital line of defense — which, along with multi-factor and geolocation services, can blunt skimming efforts.
The benefits of connected commerce can accrue up and down the retail chain. Frieden noted that quick-serve restaurants (QSRs) and the ubiquitous drive-through experience can be streamlined, too. As described by Frieden, “They are constrained not by their kitchen capacity. They always have much more kitchen capacity and they have point-of-sale [POS] capacity.”
Frieden said QSRs have been constrained by drive-up windows or POS lines within the store. However, when we now start moving to connected cars and in mobile commerce, we really just opened up a third channel, which is this curbside delivery … with almost no incremental cost to a QSR merchant. It can increase and leverage capacity by as much as 30 or 40 percent more.
In the end, he said, the connected commerce experience, as wrought by P97, “is really about powering prompts during your daily activities or daily driving, and using crowdsourced notifications in these connected cars and mobile apps.”