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'Alexa, pay for gas' casts Amazon’s shadow over a new market

Amazon is starting the new year with a major payment technology deployment at more than 11,500 gas stations, providing the e-commerce giant with an added leg to its rapidly expanding payments network ranging from checkout-free stores to Whole Foods to its own planned grocery chain.

Amazon Pay is the mobile wallet for Alexa-enabled voice payments for Exxon and Mobil stations in the U.S., with the initial deployments coming later this year. Consumers will be able to say “Alexa, pay for gas” when pulling up to the pump. The payment information will be stored in the consumer’s Amazon account, with Fiserv providing the underlying processing technology.

Drivers do not need a distinct signup or account, and will be able to use Alexa-enabled vehicles, — or other Alexa-enabled mobile devices — at Exxon or Mobil stations. Alexa confirms the station location and pump number, while Fiserv activates the pump and token to secure the payment.

Fiserv is positioning the deployment as part of its strategy to link technology companies and merchants to support "connected commerce," or links between different business categories — in this case automakers and gas stations.

The bank technology company hopes the scale provided by its 2019 acquisition of First Data will bridge gaps between brick and mortar merchants and transactions executed by phones, connected cars or the internet of things.

The technology behind the ExxonMobil deployment also supports quick service and grocery clients, and is the “orchestration layer” for the gas station deployment, said Nandan Sheth, senior vice president of global digital commerce for Fiserv.

“With universal commerce, the whole idea is to have multiple endpoints on both sides of the transaction,” Sheth said. “From a connected car standpoint, we’re working with multiple [original equipment manufacturers] to enable commerce directly from the cockpit of the car and we’re also working with voice assistant platforms.”

Amazon and ExxonMobil did not return requests for comment by deadline. Much like transit payments, gas stations provide a relatively easy and repetitive transaction that can form habits that are transferable to other use cases.

“As voice assistance becomes more ubiquitous, voice assisted payments will steadily penetrate the digital commerce space, but it will be driven by the use case,” said Thad Peterson, a senior analyst at Aite Group. "Voice-enabled payment for petroleum is a good use case as it reduces the time that the customer needs to be outside the vehicle, which could be valuable in bad weather.”

Amazon is incrementally building more actionable functions into its Alexa voice technology, in competition with Google and Apple. Amazon holds an early lead, with about a 70% share of the virtual voice assistant market, according to the Consumer Intelligence Research Group. The overall value of voice-enabled transactions is set to jump from $2 billion in yearly volume at the end of 2018 to $40 billion by 2022, according to OC&C Strategy Consultants.

Alexa’s early payment functions included at-home functions such as bill payment, and it has gradually added more complex transactions such as pharmacy orders.

Gas stations add a category that Alexa closer to Amazon’s other retail projects, such as its Amazon Go checkout-free store and Amazon’s home-delivery initiatives, which use advanced doorbell technology from Ring.

Fueling gives Amazon another venue to serve its enrolled consumers, as well as another opportunity to accumulate actionable data that can serve other merchant categories. It’s easy to imagine a series of Amazon-enabled errands, such as voice-activated bill pay, a trip to the gas station and grocery shopping at Whole Foods or Amazon Go.

“Using Amazon as the digital wallet is a good choice since unlike Siri and Google Assistant, it’s a platform-independent offering with a very high penetration among U.S. consumers,” Peterson said.

The deployment also positions both Fiserv and Amazon to embed their technology deeper in automobiles. In-car shopping and payments still represent an early stage technology, but there have been some notable projects. Wirecard, for example, has built mobile commerce technology to support logistics, “grab and go” store purchases and scanners for electric and autonomous cars.

The card brands have also been active in automotive technology. Visa recently entered a partnership with Sirius XM's Connected Vehicles subsidiary to support in-car payments, following earlier Visa deals with Honda and Accenture. Mastercard's work has included a partnership with General Motors and ExxonMobil to support in-car transactions for OnStar.

“Voice is a natural user interface in the car, as it’s arguably less distracting to drivers than pressing various buttons, so 'talking to your car' could rapidly become a habit for many drivers. Arranging fuel at the station via voice commands then becomes a natural extension of that behavior,” said Zil Bareisis, a senior analyst at Celent.

And through Alexa, ExxonMobil gains another third party option, adding to Apple Watch, mobile wallets and its own ExxonMobile Rewards+ app. ExxonMobil migrated its long-standing Speedpass technology to mobile about three years ago to accommodate the overall increase in mobile payments.

“It's also a good workaround for the upcoming implementation of EMV at the pump, but since the transaction is digital, it will be a CNP transaction vs. card present,” Peterson said.

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