The Avis Now app could end our car rental nigthmare
Avis is trying, with a simple app, to end our long, national car-rental nightmare.
If you’ve done any traveling, you know what I mean. After sitting trapped on an airplane for hours, you are forced to line up behind a dozen other weary travelers, all waiting to talk to a car rental agency counter associate, who will assault you with questions you’ve answered a dozen times before:
“Will you be returning it with a full tank?”
It’s the part of business trips I dread the most.
Avis’s new Avis Now app is designed to put an end to all of it.
Virtually every pain point of your car rental experience disappears and instead you do everything through Avis Now (available for iOS and Android).
“We’re re-engineering of entire rental process,” Avis CEO Larry DeShon told me on Tuesday.
A 10-year Avis veteran, DeShon assumed the Avis CEO job in January. Since then, he’s been busy trying to reinvent car rental for a new generation of customers, namely millennials. “We’re looking at all opportunities to leverage technology,” he said.
Avis CMO Scott Deaver told me that this younger demographic are now renting cars and the whole industry is going to have to adapt. “This is the way millennials expect to transact,” said Deaver.
The new app, which is live today in Apple’s App Store and Google Play, is designed to handle virtually the entire Avis car rental process.
The new Avis Now car rental app lets you reserve a car (far left), pick-up and/or change your car (center) and then return it.
Customers who register with Avis will be able to use the Avis Now app to book rental cars, receive notifications, change car selections, find the car in the lot and unlock it.
It encompasses almost the entire car rental and pickup process, with one exception: You still have to stop at a garage kiosk on the way out and show an attendant your driver’s license. “Working on Fast Track experience to change that,” said DeShon.
Avis Now will also be able to return the car through the app. When a customer taps the return button, the app will gather the details Avis needs and send them the receipt.
Avis’s DeShon contends that end-to-end app-based car rental is a first in his industry, but the process is not new. In fact, Avis learned it from subsidiary Zip Car.
‘We’re re-engineering of entire rental process’
Zip Car is a long-time innovator in the car rental experience. It started letting people share cars and rent them by the hour through web sites, and later apps, years ago. Avis bought Zip Car in 2013.
“We learned a lot from that brand,” said DeShon, adding, “Zip car has been helpful on rental car side to leverage that best practice.”
Renting your way
Avis is not giving up on trying to sell you insurance and gas, but, with the Avis Now app, customers can set those preferences in advance, which means they only answer those questions once.
There will also be options to set preferences, like I always need a car with GPS. this is the max amount of mileage I want on the car or it must have a USB port. “One of the things we’ve been hearing from customers is, ‘Please tell me it has a USB port, that’s all I really care about,’” laughed Deaver.
The app will even be aware of your flight schedule and adjust car availability alerts based on when you actually land.
These screens show how Avis Now users can select their rental car within the app.
Avis will also be collecting a lot of data through Avis Now, which could eventually help them drive more retail car services, like having the rental car adjust to your preferences before you arrive and possibly using the telemetry to help with other parts of Avis’s operations. DeShon expects it to help with fleet management, including the $250M shuttle operation, which moves rental cars from place to place based, in part, on expectations of demand.
‘One of the things we’ve been hearing from customers is, ‘Please tell me it has a USB port, that’s all I really care about’
Avis has been working on the app for over a year and started seeding it to some business customers. Deaver said 80,000 people are already using Avis Now and that the service is live in 50 airports across the U.S. and a handful of cities in Europe.
However, if you no longer have to visit the Avis counter when renting a car (in supported markets), what happens to the counter associates? Retraining.
“We’re moving some of our associates out to the lots,” said DeShon. They’ll be stationed there to assist customers with bags, answer questions and, most importantly, help them with cars that are probably unfamiliar to most of them. “One pain point with this is they still get in cars they don’t know,” said DeShon. The associates can show Avis customers where the trunk button is, how to turn on the car and where those all-important USB ports are located.
The coming wave
Not everyone can rent from Avis. It is, after all, a top-tier rental agency with top-tier prices. What if you usually rent with Budget Rent-A-Car? Avis owns Budget. “97% of marketplace is own by three rental companies,” said DeShon. (Hertz owns Dollar and Thrifty.) Those other brands are there to serve different customers in different price points, he said.
‘we’re the furthest out on this and for a while, we’ll have the lead’
What DeShon couldn’t tell me, though, is when Budget will get its own app. Deaver, though, noted that “this is really going to change how people rent cars. It makes you think that over time our other brands will pick up the process.”
Avis’s CEO believes they’re the first in their industry with a comprehensive car rental app, but has no illusions about the rest of the rental car industry. “I suspect, over time, I’m sure other car rental companies are looking at other rental technology solutions, as well, but we’re the furthest out on this and for a while, we’ll have the lead,” said DeShon.
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