Fiserv: Why Gas Is Just The Start Of What Alexa Will Pay For

IoT, connected cars, voice-activated commerce

While there were many attention-grabbing announcements coming out of the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), among the more eye-opening was the joint announcement by ExxonMobil, Amazon and Fiserv that paying for gas at the pump was as easy as asking Alexa.

Head of Global Digital Commerce Fiserv’s Nandan Sheth, told PYMNTS in a conversation shortly after the news broke that it was “big news” on two fronts: big news for gas station operators, and a big step forward for voice commerce. But, he noted, it was also still just one of many to come. Sheth said that the broader goal is to create a world where consumers have a lot more choices than a single voice assistant at a single chain of gas stations. Using voice to pay at quick-service restaurants, grocery stores — the options are myriad, Sheth noted, and the car will be, in many cases, where consumers increasingly want to deliver those voice-activated commands.

“We think a lot is going to happen and we are going to stay laser-focused on the connected car and expanding what it is capable of offering through our marketplace propositions,” Sheth said.

Unlocking Voice Commerce’s True Potential 

The early use cases for voice commerce at this juncture, Sheth noted, are critical because they will decide the direction of its growth trajectory. Although many use cases could emerge, the most effective ones will have two things in common: They will simplify the commerce experience for the customer and do that without a lot of complicated interactions between the voice-enabled platform and consumers.

And the car in any way offers just such an opportunity for simplified commerce, for a variety of reasons.

First, the data over the last year on this topic makes it pretty clear: Consumers are primed for the expansion of voice commerce, especially in their cars.

Every weekday, 135 million American commute to work, an act that creates nearly $212 million in commerce potential a year according to the 2020 Edition of the PYMNTS Digital Drive report. And of those consumers, 51.2 percent of them according to the same study, are already transacting while they go, and are on the lookout for better methods of doing so.

Moreover, as the most recent edition of the PYMNTS Visa How We Will Pay study reveals, those commuting consumers are also increasingly transacting consumers.  Commerce is not so much a break out activity for the modern customer, so much as a background activity running through the mainline action of their day. Some 76 percent of consumers report transacting while going about their daily routines. And an increasing number of those transactions, notably, are happening via voice — nearly a third of consumers with voice-enabled technology built into their devices report using said tech to make a purchase.

Second, as Sheth pointed out — voice is simply a better option for a person who is driving since taking one’s eyes off the road to deal with a phone isn’t merely inconvenient, it’s actively unsafe. Take those facts together, he noted, and the automobile creates a strong use case — and one that carries the additional benefit of being habit forming for the consumers. Because he said, it is also essentially simple.

“Get gas” is simple for artificial intelligence (AI) to understand and an easy command for the customer to remember. When combined with things like geofencing technology and a direct path to the gas station point of sale (PoS), a voice command greatly “Uberizes” the entire fuel purchase experience and simplifies it.

Simple, and commonly recurring actions like getting gas, he noted, are what are going to pave the way for consumers to become both comfortable and habituated to transaction by voice, which will, in turn, lead to the development of more complicated use cases and skill. That could mean a world, he noted, where one can talk to a vending machine and tell it to vend two Cokes, or pay tolls when one is in a rental car and far from their home state.

“There is so much power that we think will be ultimately surfaced as consumers are just becoming more used to this and more into it and more complicated uses cases start making sense to develop.”

But that development, he noted, requires the creation of an entirely new set of infrastructure so that cars and other connected items can be used for commerce purposes in an entirely new way.

The Mobile Future Of Commerce 

The world of voice-enabled commerce has a lot more innovation coming down the pipe in 2020, Sheth noted, but if one steps back a looks at the broader mobile commerce segment, it becomes clear this isn’t just a new technological form factor emerging, its a part of a broader sea change.

“Just looking at the apps that [Fiserv] powers, mobile order-ahead went from being 2 or 3 percent of their business two years ago to being 8 or 9 percent coming from the digital channel. These are transactions that until very recently were face to face and done with a card and I think we are just seeing the start of that growth, we are nowhere near that leveling off.”

And, by the number it seems, changes in this arena tend to be contagious in the sense that one digital journey begets another. A quick glance at the PYMNTS Paying At the Pump story demonstrates that.

Gas is a constant purchase, 63 percent of those who buy with apps purchase gas at least once a week, and one where a good digital experience can have a lot of pull — 73 percent of app users report they are more likely to revisit a location if the app experience is convenient. But the more notable finding isn’t just the purchases at the pump and upgraded digital experience can push — it’s the incremental spend it can drive. More than half (57 percent) of consumers who pay for gas using mobile apps, say they would do so more often if the apps could also pay for convenience store products.

Customers, Sheth noted, aren’t having distinct mobile experiences,  voice experiences and face to face experiences. The connected ecosystem of IoT goods is increasingly breaking down those distinctions.  Instead, he noted, they are on constant commerce journeys spread over a variety of contexts and across a series of potential touchpoints.

Given the speed those touchpoints are emerging, the challenges are considerable. But, he noted, so is the potential and the opportunities to the players who are willing to adapt.

“I think a lot of new things are emerging and changing commerce, but we are still driven by the same fundamental areas: Focusing on the user experience and driving value to the merchant and the consumer by improving that experience.”