As a frequent-spend item, fuel represents an opportunity for consumers to become more comfortable with mobile payments. And if there is a reward for them to change their behavior and pay for gas with a smartphone, even better.
MAPCO Express, a convenience store chain and petroleum operator in the southwest portion of the U.S., today became the latest such retailer to introduce a mobile app to enable its customers to pay for gas.
PayPal is the exclusive payment option within the MY MAPCO app, which is free for iOS and Android mobile devices and can be used at 276 locations across Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee.
MAPCO gives app users five cents back on every gallon, an incentive that could lead to a $100 savings over 12 months based on the current average $3.49-per-gallon nationwide price.
"That's an immense incentive in our minds that will help create awareness of the application," Howard Curtis, MAPCO's director of marketing and CRM, told Mobile Payments Today in an interview.
Curtis admits at this point customer awareness of the app is a challenge.
MAPCO released the app about three months ago and word spread through social media, thanks in large part to Millennials. Curtis hopes awareness will spread first through that particular demographic, and then amongst their friends and family and all the way to Baby Boomers.
"PayPal and MAPCO are very focused on getting the awareness out there and focused on convenience and what it means to people. In this case, it's time at the pump," Curtis said.
MAPCO and other fuel operators who offer similar programs are attempting to change behavior instilled in consumers for 30 years: inserting a payment card into a fuel dispenser to pay for gas. This is not behavior fuel operators modify overnight. Rewards, however, can help.
"Is swiping a card broken? Not really," Chris Morse, head of merchant communications for PayPal, told Mobile Payments Today in an interview. "But you need to add value, and anywhere we can add value to merchants to help them sell more, helps us [spread mobile payments] at the end of the day. By adding any type of value, but also solving a problem for both the consumer and merchant, we're all in."
Morse added partnerships with petroleum operators is one area PayPal will explore deeper.
MAPCO started to think about mobile payments some 18 months ago when the company realized mobile engagement and payments were gaining steam with consumers, Curtis said.
"A that point, mobile payments was on the horizon but we knew it was coming and coming fast, especially after Starbucks led the way in the retail experience," he said.
MAPCO wanted to bring credibility to the product from the start and decided to make PayPal the exclusive payment method within the app.
"Really, there was no other consideration when it came with partnering with one of the best payment providers out there," Curtis said.
The company is not worried about alienating potential users with an exclusive PayPal option.
"When we say PayPal to a non-PayPal customer, we might get a shoulder shrug," Curtis said. "But by adding five cents to the deal, we're hoping that overcomes the veto affect."
Early results suggest the rewards work. Both companies could not share specifics about current consumer use, but Morse said the app's most loyal users are coming back again and again.
Will Hernandez has 14 years of experience ranging from newspapers to wire services and trade publications. Before becoming Editor of MobilePaymentsToday.com, he spent two years as the content manager for PaymentsJournal.com, a leading payments industry news aggregator and information hub published by Mercator Advisory Group. Will spent four years covering the payments industry as an associate editor for multiple publications in SourceMedia's Payments Group based in Chicago.