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Since the introduction of pay-at-the-pump in the mid-1990s, there has been little evolution of technology to enhance the interface with customers — until now. Major operators today are investing in mobile commerce, and including upgrades to Internet Protocol (IP) and mobile technology are helping reshape the customer experience and reduce transaction time.
While consumers want fast payments and checkout at the pump, merchants want opportunities to build loyalty, bring value and capture additional spend.
The convergence of mobile, app-based interactions and geolocation services has fueled an on-demand mindset. These technologies are enabling customer engagement and loyalty in the following ways:
Mobile: Today in the United States, 97 percent of people under the age of 45 and 68 percent of people over age 65 own a smartphone. A Deloitte study found that Americans collectively check their smartphones 8 billion times per day. That’s 46 times per day on average, although the figure jumps to 74 daily views for those between 18 and 24 years old. Merchants want to convert such moments into commerce moments: a conversation that more frequently engages people and keeps them coming back.
Major oil brands are moving forward with at-the-pump enhancements with the smartphone as the next frontier in loyalty tied to payments. Considering that nearly 60 percent of consumers overall buy gasoline at least once a week, there is a large opportunity for retail petroleum operators to vastly expand contact with consumers.
App-Based Interactions: Research shows that people spend two-thirds of all digital time on a mobile device, and 58 percent spend the majority of this time on mobile apps. The mobile app is an important interface, and retail petroleum operators are using it to deliver mobile programs.
Geolocation Services: Merchants can pinpoint someone’s exact location thanks to GPS-enabled phones, beacons and RFID tags. This allows commerce to be increasingly contextualized with information and experiences that are personalized, immediate and delivered at the right time and place to influence behavior.
REENERGIZING THE CONSUMER EXPERIENCE
For retail petroleum operators, the original pay-at-the-pump approach proved to be a double-edged sword. It satisfied the need for transaction speed, but gave one less reason to enter the store.
Now, operators are using mobile programs to redefine customer relationships. The model lets retail petroleum operators interact with patrons wherever and whenever in a more personalized and targeted way. The programs can integrate loyalty, marketing offers, and promotional content that keeps consumers coming back.
Consumers can benefit from both fast payment and timely incentives to pause and smell (and buy) the coffee. Today, the majority of sales are at the pump, while significantly fewer sales come from customers entering the store after buying gas. There is a significant opportunity to expand in-store sales. Some operators who are using loyalty strategies are seeing food and other in-store purchases increase.
THE EXPANDING VALUE PROPOSITION OF MOBILE PAYMENTS
Getting timely promotions can reinforce brand behavior and strengthen relationships. Payments can fit into this in a way that is simple, secure and rewarding.
Research shows that loyalty rewards could be the tipping point for mobile wallets to take off. In turn, their usage could drive more loyalty. According to Accenture’s 2015 North America Consumer Digital Payments Survey, two big trends are: higher-than-ever mobile payments awareness, and the ability of rewards to speed mobile payments adoption. Clearly the two are interconnected.
One impetus for oil brands introducing mobile payments has been the deadline for gas stations to convert to EMV. Gas stations and convenience stores that sell fuel face high costs to convert existing card readers on each pump to EMV. However, with mobile payments near a tipping point, the smartly-timed investment is providing strategic value well beyond EMV. It is helping to fundamentally change how brands communicate with and entice customers.
On-demand commerce is about blending the physical and digital experiences. Companies across many industries are positioning themselves as tech companies delivering a physical product, marketed digitally through a mobile channel. Now, retail petroleum providers are leaping out of the gas station and into the palm of their customers’ hands, propelling the industry well beyond the gas pump.
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of Convenience Store News.