The future of mobility will reshape retail and leisure

  • Paul Martin, Partner |

6 min read

Mobility is spearheading the convergence of several sectors.

Retail, travel, energy and automotive are becoming ever more interconnected, thanks to a combination of forces. Energy transition, the demand for local shopping experiences, and the growth of e-commerce are all influencing how consumers get around, shop and use energy.

As part of the Our Digital Future event, I was joined by a panel of experts from across the industry to discuss the future of mobility - and what it means for the forecourt in particular:

 

  • Jurgen Bloemers – VP Convenience Europe, bp  
  • John Diviney – CEO, Welcome Break
  • Ali Rezvan, Retail Industry Director, Microsoft
  • Sarah Owen-Vandersluis, Head of Mobility, KPMG 

Changing dynamics

Five years ago, 90 percent of forecourt revenues came from the sale of fossil fuels. A decade from now, this will have shrunk to just 10 percent. Retail, food and drink, mobility and ancillary services will make up the rest.

In this disruptive context, I asked the panel to share their perspectives on three pressing questions for mobility:

 

  • What will this change mean for the future of retail and service stations?
  • What will it mean for consumers – and what role will technology play in putting them at the heart of this transition?
  • How important is the Purpose and Reputation agenda for Operators in this market? 

The role of technology

Technology is the catalyst for transformation in the digital era. As in other industries, digitisation has changed customers’ experience of mobility beyond recognition – a trend accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Technology is vital to understanding what today’s consumers want from forecourts and service stations, as Ali pointed out. And it is key to building loyalty – to getting people to return to your locations.

But leveraging technology and data to sharpen customer focus is tough when working on legacy systems.

It can be difficult to know whether your data is providing a realistic picture of customer needs; to create the digital experiences they demand; and to engage them on an individual level.

For Welcome Break, the problem is complicated by the ‘multi-franchise’ nature of the business, which means getting numerous brands’ systems to talk to each other.  

“Even within a forecourt, there’s a catering offer, a retail offer and a refuelling facility, which may all be on different systems,” John explained. “Customers don’t want to have to deal with three different apps or checkouts.”

Interestingly, he predicted that customers of the future won’t just be human beings.

As connected vehicles get smarter, they’ll hold more data on drivers’ habits and preferences when on the move. So systems will need to be able to communicate with the vehicle as well as the person. How will forecourt operators access the data within the connected vehicles that enter their sites? Without it, they’ll be unable to tailor their service to the passengers’ preferences.

An additional challenge – and opportunity – is for joined-up technology to underpin operational efficiency and profitability.

In Sarah’s view, that could be through automation, real-time data, inventory tracking, or the dynamic pricing we already see in other sectors, such as energy and consumer goods. Why shouldn’t such pricing models transpose more widely across the mobility space? 

The future of the forecourt

With bp and Welcome Break represented on the panel, we couldn’t miss the chance to explore the implications of current market trends for forecourt operators.  

As the energy transition progresses, forecourt visits for fuel will decline – due to the growth in electric vehicles (EVs) and, alongside this, a wider choice of refuelling/recharging sites.

For a business like bp, the challenge will be to remain hyper-relevant to consumers. That will mean taking the convenience offering to the next level, by building in local relevance and tapping into trends like the circular economy. In doing so, there is competition for the customer not just from other forecourt and convenience sites, but also from new platform operators and others who are looking to expand their touchpoints with the travelling customer – such as vehicle manufacturers, e-Mobility services providers and home energy providers.

Welcome Break is already seeing the impact of the energy transition at its motorway service stations: the company is the UK’s largest provider of EV charging points.

As with bp, the imperative for Welcome Break is to maximise relevance, so that customers want to come to its sites, not just visit because they need to refuel. That will require the right convenience and catering offer, the right mix of adjacent services, and a welcoming environment.

So, the forecourt offering must evolve to stay relevant. With that in mind, we took a poll of our seminar attendees, asking: will we still visit forecourts to refuel by 2030?

 

This relatively even split wasn’t reflected among the panel. John and Jurgen both felt very strongly that – for the reasons outlined above – the answer is ‘no’.

Purpose, reputation and culture

An organisation’s purpose and reputation are increasingly important to its customers – particularly in the mobility space, given its carbon footprint and the need for energy transition.

Businesses need to recognise consumers’ concerns about the impact of what they do. “Sustainability goals aren’t enough – you have to be proactive about meeting them,” Ali signalled.

Jurgen went further, describing responsible citizenship as “your licence to operate”. It must be built into sites and product ranges, which will mean working with suppliers to investigate your offering and embed sustainability into it.

Culture will be crucial to a firm’s ability to live by its purpose and behave responsibly. “Culture defines how you show up.” Sarah affirmed. “Your values come through in the way you work and operate day in, day out.”  

Invest for success

Pressure to transform comes at an already testing time for the industry. Over the past 12 months, the market has undergone unprecedented difficulties: travel restrictions, fewer vehicles on the roads, huge dips in oil prices and more.

So how can firms balance the push for change with the need to protect the business? How will they meet the challenges at hand, while pursuing the opportunities that the future of mobility presents?

For John, the answer lies in pushing forward with their investment plans.

“The pandemic will be over at some point; you can’t let it cloud your investment decisions. Well capitalised businesses will come through the current conditions; they need to be thinking about their future direction. If they hold back, they could be finished.”

In summary

The winners in the future of the mobility space will be those that respond to sector convergence and changing consumer behaviour. As they grapple with these challenges, businesses need to keep three guiding principles in mind:

  • Customers must be at the epicentre of everything you do.
  • Technology and data are how you understand customers and deliver the experiences they want.
  • Purpose and reputation will increasingly influence customer expectations and how you meet them – and culture is the key to responsible citizenship. 

To hear a the full discussion, watch our on-demand recording of the session here.