There are few experiences more fiction-filled and anger-inducing than trying to find a parking space in a major metropolitan area. The circling the block — or blocks — over and over again while searching for any available space is bad enough; finally finding a metered space within a ten minute walk of your destination that only take quarters when you have no change is orders of magnitude worse.
The options are all unpalatable — searching the seat cushions, finding a convenience store to make change (which means you have to buy the candy bar you don’t really need), just giving up and accepting the fact that you will be ticketed and possibly even towed — but when they’re the only options available, consumers don’t have much choice but to make peace with one of them.
But smart parking firm IPS — in partnership with Visa — thinks they can give consumers a much better option. It’s called PARK SMARTER, and it’s a new mobile payment application that gives consumers a much more palatable option to finding and then paying to park.
“IPS designed PARK SMARTER™ to be easy to use, but flexible so that we can stay ahead of the curve of what’s possible from a mobile payment application. Users can pay, receive real-time expiration notifications and extend a parking session remotely from the convenience of their smartphone,” noted Chad Randall, chief operating officer, IPS.
IPS and PARK SMARTER are not the first or only smart parking solution in the game. In fact, even their CEO noted that such solutions are becoming an increasingly normal part of the hunt for a good space. But, Randall noted, not all solutions are created equal.
“Using mobile apps to manage parking transactions has become commonplace, but so has the complexity and lack of user engagement,” Randall explained.
IPS, he says, has built a smoother and more streamlined app — one that is more broadly useful for customers. That meant partnering — and connecting first Visa Checkout and soon Visa’s Commerce Network to PARK SMARTER was not a hard decision for Visa to make, according to Bill Dobbins, head of Business Development, North America, Visa Inc.
Dobbins was interviewed by Karen Webster shortly before the launch was announced.
He noted that the PARK SMARTER pair-up was in some sense a natural fit for Visa, because it gave them a direct way to leverage their unique solutions against a rather pressing and direct consumer need.
“Visa can’t make finding a parking spot easier, but we can enable a more convenient experience that helps eliminate scrambling for spare change, overpaying for parking or worrying about getting a parking ticket when running errands,” Dobbins said, noting that when one looks at the problems and pain points that a consumer would actually like to see mobile solve for them, parking is high on the list.
“Our May ’17 survey unveiled that approximately 75 percent of people pay more at parking meters, buying more time than they think they need — and majority pay with cash/coins. At the same time, more than 80 percent of respondents said they were either likely or highly likely to use [apps] for payment if given the chance,” Dobbins said.
Parking, Dobbins noted, not only presents a unique opportunity to dramatically improve a customer experience — by making finding and paying for it somewhat less of an ordeal — but also an opportunity to do something that has never been done before: making the experience rewarding.
So how does it work — and where is it going?
Making Parking Less Painful
As is usually the case, to get started with PARK SMARTER, users need to download the mobile app and register. Users that sign-in with Visa Checkout can then skip entering card information or a billing address as part of the process.
Once signed in, consumers can use the app’s Parking Finder tool that Dobbins noted taps into IPS sensor tech to provide accurate and up-to-date information on space availability.
Once a space is located, users can tap and pay — and be done. The app will also send users real-time notifications to alert users in advance of parking expiration, allowing customers to add time directly to the meter remotely from their phone.
In the next few weeks, PARK SMARTER will also become the first mobile parking solution tied into the Visa Commerce Network, which will allow local merchants to offer rewards tied directly to parking to consumers.
“Integrated parking solutions offers a great opportunity for a more personalized parking experience but also an immersive commerce experience too. An exciting feature that will be added to the app in the next few weeks will be the ability to offer a local merchant rewards program that combines opportunities for local businesses to engage directly with consumers. PARK SMARTER is the first mobile parking app using the Visa Commerce Network,” Dobbins noted.
The Cash-Free Future
Consumers, Dobbins noted, don’t pay for parking with coins for love of the quarter — they do so because they usually aren’t given a better option.
Creating that better option, he noted, isn’t just good for the consumer — who will be dealing with less parking-related rage — but also good for Visa’s brand, as it moves the world to a less cash-dominated future.
“At Visa, we are constantly looking to future-proof not only our brand, but also our merchant and issuer partners; part of that forward-looking mentality is advancing the idea of a cashless society. These cashless solutions offer seamless payment experiences and help to solve consumer pain points. With automation becoming increasingly prevalent in retail, it is not surprising that the unattended retail space — including parking meters, vending machines, laundry, etc. — were next to follow suit.”
Parking is a special opportunity, because in some sense it marks the beginning of a potential customer journey — insofar as the consumer is already out and about. That means the opportunities to make contextual connections to the consumer — and push relevant rewards — are tied to it. By partnering with IPS, Dobbins said that Visa isn’t just opening up parking with Visa Checkout, it is creating a new consumer touchpoint through which all kinds of offers and notifications can be pushed in the area in which the consumer has parked her car — and maybe even be persuaded to stay a while.
Now, if they can just program the app to handle the parallel parking piece of it…