You’ve probably heard about Google’s self-driving car project, and maybe that co-founder Sergey Brin’s new car has no steering wheel or brakes. And while Google’s prototype looks a bit like a futuristic, overgrown toy, more mainstream automakers like Tesla, Ford, Toyota, and Audi have either hinted at or are in the midst of similar projects.
While we’re still several years away from the commercial availability of these vehicles, a couple of things about the potential of this technology stick out: Early models will likely be targeted to fleet operators and affluent consumers. And people adopting this technology will have more time to do things while “driving,” like working, socializing, and shopping.
Affluent consumers? Shopping? Now, this is where it gets interesting.
Disrupting the daily routine
People’s driving habits are fairly predictable over time, particularly their commutes to and from work. The mapping and geo-location tools that will be integral to the car’s operation, along with the data that’s collected over time will make for a powerful one-two punch for advertisers and marketers. At the same time, this will open the door to a new era of convenience and efficiency for consumers.
Unlike today, where location-based apps can present offers based on where someone is now, advertisers, and the businesses they signup, will be able to present offers based on where a person will be ten minutes, fifteen minutes, or even hours in the future. Rather than rely on impulse purchases, this will provide the consumer with the chance to make considered purchase decisions and forge deeper brand connections. If desired, consumers will be able to take advantage of multiple offers at multiple businesses, and, thanks to the car’s mapping abilities and awareness of traffic conditions, complete their transactions via the most efficient route. With the advent of the autonomous vehicle, the promise of hyper-local advertising can (finally) be fully realized, which leads directly to the implications for omnichannel commerce.
This new purchase funnel will present a number of opportunities for multichannel retailers with brick and mortar locations. The question is how many of them will still be around in five to ten years to reap the benefits.
Imagine drive-through lanes at big box retailers. Orders placed earlier in the day, or even en route (for an additional charge), can be picked, packed, and waiting for the purchaser. All they’ll have to do is pull up and go. Payment will have already been processed by the underlying commerce platform, of course. Then, retailers can experiment with ways to coax consumers out of their cars and back into the store and/or increase order values—a 5% discount for in-store pickup, instant offers available exclusively at the drive-through, etc. Even simple service providers will benefit. If your dry cleaner knew you were close by and could let you know that your shirts were ready a day early, they could provide the kind of added value that loyal business relationship are built on. Given that these scenarios are only the tip of the iceberg, the possibilities are pretty amazing.
We live in the age of the empowered customer. Their control over the purchase process is extraordinary, and will only grow over time. While the concept of autonomous vehicles seems like a novelty now, this new technology has the potential to create an entirely new category in omnichannel commerce by catering to individuals on their terms.
Driving, in and of itself, is a fairly unproductive activity. Brands and retailers that can leverage this fact to solve consumer problems, offer added convenience, or make consumer’s lives more efficient stand to, well, be in the driver’s seat.