Most strategy documents we've seen - from within the industry, or from external thinkers - describe the move from card-based to card-less refuelling as one of the "certainties" of the commercial fuel market's next-stage evolution.
Yet, while Shell, Esso, BP and other majors have all launched powerful proprietary mobile payment tools, they have only (if at all) dipped their toes into the more complex world of card-less commercial fleet refuelling.
Why is this? And what is likely to happen in the near future?
1.The Decision-Making-Unit and Customer Loyalty
In the B2C world, we deal with the most simple decision-making-unit - a unit of, errr, one. That decision-making-unit may be influenced and persuaded by a whole host of competing factors, but remains in essence straightforward. Offering a payment app to a B2C customer is a simple trade-off for time-saving and convenience, in return for greater loyalty.
B2B drivers - to varying degrees - refuel according to the directions and constraints imposed upon them by fleet managers, corporate policies and the like. There is no simple trade-off of convenience for loyalty: a commercial vehicle driver, for example, may not use a company mobile phone and may not give a damn whether he/she pays with a rectangular piece of plastic or an app. Making a mobile payment instrument attractive in the commercial environment is a whole new kettle of fish....
2. The Business Case for Adaptation and Development
Given the above, driving increased B2B customer loyalty through a mobile commercial fuel payment instrument would seem to be a more complicated affair. Not simply a case of digitalizing a plastic payment process, but engineering a set of new features which appeal to a corporate fleet or commercial transport decision.
Making the business case for investment in "commercializing" a B2C app isn't a no brainer - development of the more subtle fleet management features is potentially complex, costly and time-consuming, and convincing budget-holders of returns through higher customer retention, increased share of wallet or better unit fuel margins is a tricky case to build.
3. Differing Customer Value Propositions
At the core of the issue are the very different value drivers in the B2C and B2B fuel worlds. B2C is driven primarily by convenience - so engineering an app which makes payments (at least notionally) quicker and easier is a simple argument and an equally simple proposition. Hence the traction it is beginning to achieve.
Move into the corporate and commercial worlds, though, and you get yourselves onto the battlefields of cost control, price monitoring, network and site restriction, and the elimination of unauthorised transactions (whether genuinely fraudulent, or made at undiscounted locations).
The question is: does a network retailer really want to offer its commercial customers an app which makes it easier for it to direct its drivers into selected locations with higher discounts? And is it worth investing millions in an app which helps its B2B customers to save money in that way?
One hypothesis is that major network retailers and independent fuel card issuers alike will "piggy-back" B2B mobile payment instruments on third party solutions specifically developed to meet corporate and commercial demands. There are a number of "off-the-shelf" products coming into the market - so this seems a very viable future scenario.
4. The Card-less Replication of 3rd Party Fuel Card Acceptance?
An entertaining question in the context of all this is the question of third party acceptance. In the "plastic world", Europe's commercial fuel market is based on a set of cross-acceptance agreements between majors, and a further set of acceptance agreements between network retailers and independent fuel card issuers.
As the B2B market moves nearer and nearer to a fully card-less world, will these agreements be directly replicated through the (cross-)acceptance of mobile apps?
Who knows? There would seem to be two potential outcomes: either the network retailers use their B2B apps to try to force a "land grab", refusing to accept any third party mobile solutions. Or, alternatively, the market re-establishes its old norms in the card-less world.
Whatever transpires, the near future will see some mighty interesting developments as retailers and card issuers wrestle with these questions. Let us know what you think!