Is the connected car the next big ecommerce platform?

By | 3 minute read | January 17, 2017

Unless you live in a dense urban area, then you probably spend a lot of time in your car. In fact, the average American spends about 46 minutes of every day in his or her vehicle.

According to Mark Lloyd, Consumer Online Officer for General Motors OnStar, work and home are typically the number one destinations that we spend these 46 minutes trying to reach. And the number two destination? Merchants.

During these 46 daily minutes, says Lloyd, we most often visit the same places. In fact, we use navigation (an indication that we’re going somewhere new) only 5% of the time. The repetitiveness of our daily trips is almost ritualistic: we commute Monday through Friday, we pick the kids up at soccer practice on Thursdays at 6:00 p.m., we go grocery shopping every Saturday.

In fact, it’s almost as if people live their lives in their cars. And these cars, and the automotive industry in general, are about to undergo some serious change.

“We are going to see more change in the next 5 years than we’ve seen in the last 50,” says Joanna Pena-Bickley, Chief Creative Officer for IBM ix. Cars are becoming connected. Technology is enabling cars to be self-diagnosing and even self-learning. Let’s face it: they are the new – and true – mobile device.

The connected car and ecommerce

Therein lies the opportunity for retailers, say Lloyd and Pena-Bickley. Cars present an opportunity for retailers to engage drivers before they reach the store, or before they realize they need to go to the store, for that matter.  And they also present an opportunity to deliver new retail experiences as a service to the driver.

Lloyd and Pena-Bickley envision that cars will serve as the connection point between our daily rituals and completely new ecommerce experiences.  They shared their vision, along with partner Timo Bauer of Glympse in an NRF session, Driving Loyalty Through Cognitive Mobility.

Here are some examples of how they see this transformation unfolding:

  • Getting gas. Your car detects that you’re low on fuel, but instead of simply lighting up a gauge on your dashboard, your OnStar Go directs you to the nearest gas station. Since you have your payment information saved, the fuel pump is automatically enabled as you pull up, and your account is automatically charged for the gas.
  • Getting coffee. Every morning on your way to work, you stop at a local coffee shop to get coffee.   Your car detects from contextual information (like your route and time of day), that you’re on your way to work again, and provides some recommendations on what you might like to order.  Although you typically get a hot coffee, today is day 3 of an intense heatwave, so it suggests an iced coffee instead. You make your selection, and your order is placed.
  • Getting diapers. You’re a busy parent on the go, so you keep your shopping list on your mobile device. Your mobile device syncs your shopping list with your car, and as you are on your way home from work, your OnStar Go reminds you that you need diapers. You place the order directly from your car, and a store associate receives a notification to fulfil your order. As you arrive, the associate is alerted, and brings the order out for curbside pickup.

Take a look at this video to see OnGoStar in action.

So how does the car anticipate what its driver needs? Through cognitive analytics, according to Pena-Bickley. Watson Personality Insights sheds light on those in-car rituals we take part in daily, and learns our behavior patterns.  It can then begin to anticipate what we need and what we are likely to do. With Watson, the car is literally reinventing time on the move.

The connected car, retail and the future of mobility

Lloyd and Pena-Bickley do not predict that cars will replace phones as the primary medium ecommerce.  Instead, they envision an ecosystem of devices – your car and your phone both being part of that ecosystem – that provide a fluid omnichannel commerce experience.

They argue that in the car, you must put down your phone for safety reasons, so the glanceable interface that OnStar Go provides becomes the most practical way to handle tasks while you’re driving. And eventually, they envision the service being enabled as a voice activated assistant, so interacting with it becomes completely hands free.

So, is the connected car truly the next big ecommerce platform?  That remains to be seen, but Lloyd and Pena-Bickley certainly make a compelling case.