Jamie L. LaReau Detroit Free Press
Published 8:14 AM EST Nov 13, 2018
If you love American food, preferably burgers, you probably drive a General Motors vehicle.
In beta testing, that’s the top food preference many GM drivers using Yelp Reservations searched for on newer model GM vehicles. Their second favorite cuisine is Asian/vegetarian followed by Mexican, GM said. If a GM driver orders takeout, it’s typically on a Wednesday, GM said.
GM knows all of this and more about the buying habits of some of its drivers because it tracks trends through the Marketplace app that’s on nearly 4 million GM vehicles.
It’s not the first time GM has monitored customers’ idiosyncrasies — with their permission, of course — to learn purchasing patterns and share it with advertisers. Late last year, GM did a study using vehicle Wi-Fi to track drivers’ radio listening habits.
Marketplace is on most GM 2017-19 model vehicles. It allows drivers to buy coffee, doughnuts, make restaurant and hotel reservations and even prepay for gasoline, all from the road using a dashboard touch screen. GM is adding Yelp Reservations now, initially to most Buick vehicles, to let drivers search for restaurants in a 25-mile radius of their vehicles’s location and reserve a table for up to 10 people.
And it gives GM lots of information about what its drivers like to buy.
Integration into lives
Marketplace is free to GM drivers because the 14 merchants on it subsidize it. They pay GM either a flat rate or a monthly fee based on the number of consumer “impressions” they get on it. Either way, it provides GM with a new revenue stream.
But just how much revenue remains to be seen.
“We’re still at the stage of building customer awareness for Marketplace,” said GM spokesman Stefan Cross. “As we get to the stage of more adoption and engagement, that’s when we will see higher profit margins.”
For the merchants, they get access to new customers, and GM shares analytics about drivers’ buying patterns from the connected car with the vendors.
For the driver, well, it’s either a convenience or creepy, depending on how you look at it.
“It reinforces the idea that our cars are more integrated into our lives,” said Rebecca Lindland, executive analyst at Kelley Blue Book.
‘A bizarre world’
On the one hand, it’s a convenience. Take Yelp. Users can segment a search by the types of cuisine they crave, view the restaurant’s rating and general price range. The app lets drivers call a restaurant directly, too.
It offers safety if a driver is in an unfamiliar area in need of finding and reserving a hotel room, said Lindland. In fact, GM said its data show that most of its Marketplace users make last-minute hotel reservations after 8 p.m. the same day they stay in that hotel.
Likewise, it’s convenient and safer to pay for gasoline before getting out of the car to pump, said Lindland. GM said analytics show that most of its drivers visit a gas station to fuel up after 3 p.m. on Thursdays.
Yet, GM knows a lot about its drivers. For instance, Tuesday is the most popular day for driving to a store to pick up retail items, the company said.
Some people are understandably uncomfortable with GM knowing their purchasing habits, Lindland said, adding, “It’s a bizarre world we live in with sharing information, but at the same time it’s a convenience.”
Marketplace is an “opt in” only service, so drivers must enroll. And, the automaker does not have access to a driver’s personal or financial information. The driver registers a credit card with the vendor of choice, not GM, said Scott Goddard, GM’s senior manager of Marketplace.
“A lot of people love it and think it’s safer because they don’t have to get their wallet out, for example, when getting gas,” Goddard said. “Is this creating a customer for life? We believe it will.”
This isn’t the first time GM has tracked and studied its drivers’ behavior behind the wheel.
Late last year, in a three-month test, GM used in-car Wi-Fi to track the habits of some of its drivers in hopes of seeing whether there is a relationship between what drivers listen to and what they buy. About 90,000 drivers in Los Angeles and Chicago agreed to participate in a “proof of concept.” The data collected could possibly lead to more targeted radio advertising.
More: GM tracked radio listening habits for 3 months: Here’s why
GM is not the only carmaker offering some form of car connectivity.
“Just about everyone is trying this out to some degree,” said Lindland.
Ford’s luxury brand, Lincoln, has a valet service for cars that need dealership service appointments. Audi, Mercedes Benz, BMW and Nissan also offer embedded services that connect the car to the driver’s phone allowing for in-vehicle connectivity to services.
“So everyone is trending in this direction and part of it is because we will look at mobility as a service,” Lindland said. “When we’re in our car space, we’re going to expect that it’s a continuation of our phones.”
The caution is the ability to delete any connected car history if ride sharing should proliferate, “so even as we integrate it into the cars, we also have to be able to depersonalize it.”
But Marketplace opens up many opportunities for consumers to gain access to the goods they truly desire, and advertisers to attract the right buyers.
“What the habits reveal can certainly be very powerful when it comes to target marketing,” said Lindland.
Contact Jamie L. LaReau: 313-222-2149 or [email protected]
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