Adrian Bewley's blog: Physical or virtual: the changing face of rental branches
07 July 2017
Amazon's recent purchase of the Whole Foods retail chain in the US highlights the complexities behind how virtual, digital and retail locations are combining to deliver what customers want.
Some predict this will export many of the virtues of online retail - speed, efficiency, convenience - to the real world. The Amazon Go brand has already offered a taste of grocery shopping without queues. Backed up with Whole Foods locations across the US, this could result in an entirely new virtual/actual retail experience.
Meanwhile, vehicle rental is facing a similar situation as frequent customers demand increasing convenience and accessibility. How people and businesses hire cars is being transformed by online booking platforms that provide real-time visibility of which vehicles are available where, and by 24/7, 365 days a year car clubs that can be accessed via a mobile app.
Yet many renters prefer a personal, face-to-face service. Renting a car isn't like buying groceries. Technology already enables drivers to pick a vehicle up from the roadside whenever they want to without visiting a branch as well as bypass the counter at the airport and proceed directly to a booth in the car park, choose from two reserved vehicles, sign a pre-printed contract and grab the keys.
At the same time, having someone on hand to help with dashboard controls, explain vehicle features and show how the rental process works can equally streamline the process. It creates a better customer experience by ensuring complete understanding.
Technology is essential for businesses looking for connected mobility solutions, where options proliferate and the right solution for a given requirement might be anything from a car club vehicle for an hour to a longer-term rental on a commercial vehicle. It's not always obvious which is the most cost-effective option, and technology helps to guide employees through the travel planning process quickly and effortlessly within the travel policy set by the business.
Technology also adds efficiency and convenience to the admin process. Paperwork can be sorted electronically and both pricing options and vehicle images can be stored to ensure transparency over potential disputes.
What's become increasingly evident is that some prefer to serve themselves, and know exactly what they want and need, while others need support through the rental process. At the branch, at the roadside and at the desk while the trip is being planned, technology is enabling faster, more efficient access to vehicles for ever more people, at almost any time.