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
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?