For some commuters who make stopping for a cup of coffee part of their daily routine, the morning drive to work may never be the same. In the wee hours of the morning, General Motors enabled a new feature, called Marketplace, in about four million vehicles. It lets car owners order things like coffee and fast food using the touchscreens in their dashboards and pay for items in advance. No more waiting for an order to be assembled at the local fry shack. It should be ready and waiting when commuters arrive.
Many retailers, including Starbucks, already allow mobile ordering via smartphone apps. But with cars morphing into what industry insiders call “the third screen,” auto executives foresee some portion of commerce shifting to in-vehicle purchases, with the result of entirely new revenue streams as they snag a percentage of those transactions.
Using the 4G LTE connection in millions of GM vehicles produced for the 2017 and 2018 model years, the automaker is linking customers with restaurants, gas stations, coffee shops, and hotels.
Whether customers prefer to stick with the app-enabled purchases on their phones or shift their business to the
in-vehicle screens remains a central competitive question.
GM’s initial partners include retailers such as Dunkin’ Donuts, TGI Fridays, Shell, ExxonMobil, and Priceline.com. Starbucks has signed on, too, and will enable the service in GM cars early in 2018. Other participants include Parkopedia, a service that allows drivers to find, reserve, and pay for parking, and the restaurant chains Applebee’s and IHOP. A spokesperson said more retailers will be added quickly, adding that the company is having conversations with national pizza-delivery outfits that have shown early interest in the platform.
Competitors will be watching the way motorists treat this ability to order from their infotainment screens. In some cases, such as ordering from Starbucks, GM will need to offer a superior experience to lure drivers away from their smartphones. In other cases, such as a motorist searching for a roadside hotel along an unknown route, the immediate benefit seems more evident.
The arrival of GM’s Marketplace through an over-the-air software update in the middle of the night marks a separate milestone. To date, Tesla Motors had been the undisputed leader in the remote addition of new features. Most other automakers have either not attempted remote updates at all or used them only to patch back-end bugs that most motorists didn’t notice. With Tuesday morning’s update, GM has joined an exclusive club. And it says Marketplace is only the “first of a suite of new personalization features” the company will roll out in the coming 12 to 18 months.
Customers who received the update should be notified via email this morning. Some customers who don’t get notifications may be eligible to enable Marketplace but will need to download it via GM’s app store.
This in-vehicle shop is designed to for motorists to use while they’re driving. That may be a concern considering that fatal crashes involving distracted driving accounted for 3450 deaths last year, according to the latest federal figures. But, like features that project phones onto infotainment screens such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Marketplace was designed to meet federal standards set to minimize the time drivers look away from the road, according to GM.
On average, a driver spends 46 minutes per day in his or her vehicle, according to AAA research. Marketers have long wanted to reach consumers during that time, but aside from roadside signage, that has been a vexing problem. Some car owners may not welcome the new intrusions, but others might find Marketplace an incentive-laden gateway to purchases they already intended to make.
In part, the system is the outgrowth of the company’s partnership with IBM, announced in 2016, which intertwines IBM’s artificial-intelligence platform, Watson, with the vehicle’s infotainment underpinnings. If drivers buy a tall cappuccino each day from a certain Starbucks, for example, Watson will learn those preferences and subsequently make it easier for motorists to make their usual selections.
Initially, the Marketplace platform does not pair with voice-recognition systems in the cars, although GM says it eventually intends to let customers place orders via voice commands rather than swipes on the touchscreen.
Whether customers prefer the app-enabled purchases on their phones or will shift their business to the screens in their vehicles remains a central competitive question. Whatever the outcome, GM seems poised to be the first automaker ready to learn the answer.