Gas stations become a driving force for in-car commerce

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Two of the largest U.S. fueling station chains are adopting technology that separates the act of pumping gas from the transaction — and in the process, enabling that the purchase of fuel to become a gateway to in-car shopping.

Shell has connected its fuel stations to Uconnect Market, Fiat Chrysler’s in-vehicle commerce platform. Shell will support payments through Uconnect, allowing drivers to locate stations and authorize a feuling charge before they fill up. The Uconnect Market launched in 2019 to support an in-car digital wallet and links to food, gas and other services with a goal of having all FCA cars web-connected by 2023.

Fiat Chrysler (FCA) is battling other automakers to enhance in-car technology, with a focus on serving the larger trend toward order ahead and payment for drive-through restaurants and similar establishments.

Similarly, GM has integrated its Onstar contextual commerce system with IBM Watson and Mastercard to support shopping and payments through vehicles. Visa has worked with Honda to enable in-car payments, while Mercedes Benz has designed a concept car that alters its interior based on usage — with different configuration for ride-sharing or delivery — in anticipation of driverless vehicles.

At the same time, fueling stations need to upgrade to accommodate these new technologies while also migrating their stations to accept EMV.

Shell’s deployment comes shortly after ExxonMobil announced it would enable Amazon Alexa voice payments at gas stations. ExxonMobil’s goal is to tap into added revenue streams that could be gleaned from a tie into Amazon.

Shell hopes to expand its reach for in-car commerce as a followup to its recent mobile project called Pay and Save, which performs some of the same functions as its connection to FCA’s Unconnect market. The Shell app allows consumers to locate stations, and pay for fuel using their own choice of payment method.

“Connected cars represent an evolution and opportunity in how customers can interact and engage with the Shell brand,” said Albert Rivas, head of North American marketing technology for Shell Retail. “As connected vehicles become more prevalent, our retail sites will be primed to champion digital technology.”

Shell is the largest gas station chain in the U.S., with about 14,000 locations, according to CSP Daily. ExxonMobil has about 10,000 locations, making it the second largest chain. Their scale gives both companies influence over how gas payment technology evolves at other chains.

The connected car market is expected to reach $217 billion by 2017, up from about $43 billion, according to ReportLinker, an automotive data aggregator. The research forecasts North American connected car growth to be stronger than other markets given relative economic stability and disposable income.

“If people are making other purchases or searching the web in their car, they can also use Uconnect Market to navigate to Shell,” Rivas said.

Projects such as Shell's Uconnect Market deployment and ExxonMobil's Alexa support also rely on the difficult EMV migration for U.S. gas stations.

Shell did not link in-car payments directly to the EMV project, but the chain has taken steps to ease its security upgrades. The chain in 2019 introduced a mobile app that uses a cloud computing structure called SD-Wan, which works across a large network, to manage the geographic range of Shell's stations. Shell also works with Cybera to convert dispensers to IP network devices to process EMV payments.

While in-car payments are a version of in-app transactions, it’s still only one component of gas station payments.

“The connected car capability to pay at the pump with NFC or voice-based payments is reliant on the gas station sector to upgrade to EMV and NFC compliant terminals,” said Krista Tedder, head of payments for Javelin Strategy & Research. “NFC compatibility needs to be EMV compliant. What gas stations should consider is how the upgraded technology will improve consumer experience and add possible additional revenue streams.”

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Internet of things Digital payments Mobile wallets EMV