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COMMENTARY

Changing the perception of convenience with technology

SINGAPORE is one of the most connected countries in the world, with the number of smartphone users projected to reach 4.82 million by 2022, according to Hamburg-based market research firm Statista.

Capitalising on a mobile payment appetite that is on the cusp of taking off, Singapore recently unveiled the first-of-its kind unified payment QR code that's adopted by 27 payment schemes. For retail businesses once apathetic to online payments, this is a strong signal to kickstart a digital transformation or risk becoming irrelevant. The motor vehicle fuel industry is no exception and is trying to leverage these technologies to better meet customer demands and growing expectations for a quick and hassle-free experience.

UNDERSTAND WHAT IRKS - AND GRATIFIES - CUSTOMERS

Before jumping on the mobile app bandwagon, retailers must listen to and understand their customers' needs. For example, drivers typically see refuelling as plainly a chore. Digging further, a consumer analysis report by energy company Chevron found that having to wait for a pump, long payment queues, and the complexity related to loyalty and payment systems ranked as the top inconvenience grouses by drivers at service stations. The potential opportunity here lies in payment options that would help get drivers back on the road as quickly as possible.

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The aptly titled "Paying at the Pump Report: What Drives Mobile Adoption" July 2018 joint survey report by PYMTS.com and smartphone app GasBuddy found that in addition to increased convenience, what motivated drivers most to keep using apps for fuel purchases was to save money. Some 57.4 per cent of respondents considered cost savings the foremost factor, followed by convenience at 42.8 per cent. Customers are therefore likely to invest in a digital experience if it incorporates an incentive or loyalty component, is commonly accessed for a repeat necessity purchase (like fuel), and if they can quite immediately see "value for money" in using it.

ENABLE CHANNELS TO ANTICIPATE CUSTOMER NEEDS

In a fast-paced city like Singapore, the culture of instant gratification is one which customers have grown used to and have come to expect. While ApplePay, AndroidPay, WeChat, etc have become prevalent methods of payment on the retail front, having bespoke merchant-branded mobile apps can enhance the consumer experience by integrating payments, loyalty programmes and promotions. They also offer a channel for merchants to reach out to consumers and for consumers to provide valuable feedback with ease which can further shape future product offers.

The perception of "seamless" transactions will change. As mobile payments increasingly become the norm, we can expect the payment process to be one that occurs in the background with minimal consumer intervention. For example, payment can be completed in a few simple taps, with no PIN to enter and the transaction processed directly from the preferred payment method set in the app.

The agile mode of mobile app development is often preferred by developers, as it provides flexibility to constantly upgrade and improve a minimum viable product based on consumer feedback on what they find beneficial.

For the fuel industry, the future of seamless refuelling could change drastically. With the proliferation of connected vehicles and the Internet of Things (IoT), motorists may expect a future where the car itself controls the refuelling experience, recognising the pump number through GPS or Bluetooth, preselecting the fuel type according to past purchases or the manufacturer's recommendation, applying loyalty programme reductions and concluding the entire purchase with no action required from the motorist.

In the interim, expect more industries embracing digital transformation and mobile payments to place their respective retailers ahead of the curve. For consumers, it will be an interesting journey towards a hassle-free experience, but the future of an entirely virtual payment landscape for our cashless society may be closer than we expect.

  • The writer is Chevron's Manager of Programmes and Initiatives for Asia.