Beacon Technology and Car Wash Subscription Programs
Beacon technology used in tandem with a customer-facing car wash subscription program revolutionizes the customer experience by providing a quick, convenient experience.
Innovation is the key to continued growth and ensuring a frictionless customer experience should be top of mind for any retailer.
Circle K’s vast global network of car washes has digitally transformed operations with its revolutionary car wash subscription program. First launched in Denmark and the U.S. in 2020, the program soon expanded into Canadian stores and the rest of their global markets will soon follow.
Customers can subscribe in the app to a monthly program for unlimited washes and have several plan options from which to choose, including individual, family, or business plans. Redemption is easy. Customers simply open the app at the store, verify their car’s license plate, scan a QR code at the car wash payment terminal, and drive-in. On the backend, there is an extremely short wait while the app verifies the user before the entry instructions allow the user to pull forward into the wash bay.
In an effort to make the process even faster and easier, Circle K’s newest technology integration involves using beacons to immediately authenticate the user upon activating the app and pulling the vehicle adjacent to the payment terminal.
The customer experience is very convenient according to Lars Hecht, Global Lead, Category Director for Circle K in a recent interview with Paula Thomas on the popular “Let’s Talk Loyalty” podcast. “The beacon will communicate and establish communication with your phone and move you to make your choices on your own personal form, in your own personal space inside your vehicle and the whole thing unfolds in front of you. It’s pretty cool stuff!”
In the episode, #200: Circle K’s Subscription Car Wash Loyalty Programme, released March 23rd, Hecht explains that the beacons were installed to simplify the user experience and remove friction from the process. As stores in the U.S. were undergoing required EMV upgrades at the car wash payment terminals, beacons were installed.
About Circle K’s Car Wash Subscription Program
Circle K is owned by Canadian company Alimentation Couche-Tard, Inc. which operates more than 15,000 stores in twenty countries. Specific to Circle K’s car wash program, there are approximately 2,700 car washes globally, thereby making it the largest car wash network in the world.
Car washing can be quite profitable. In the U.S., car wash revenues topped $15 billion annually, according to the International Car Wash Association.
In a February 2022 NACS Research report, “Leveraging Car Wash Potential in Convenience Retail,” NACS estimates that there are at least 5,000 car washes in the U.S. operated by convenience retailers and also suggests that car wash subscription programs are increasingly important to bolster sales. According to the same report, “the value of the subscription for retailers is simple: lock-in consistent revenue year-round and build customer loyalty.” Further, NACS researchers found that subscription programs are just getting started as “several mid-size retailers have a car wash subscription in place, while other retailers are testing a subscription for the first time or do not have any plans to implement a subscription.”
A clear leader in this space in the U.S. convenience channel, Circle K realized the valuable potential of a subscription program would be to generate recurring revenue for car wash operations. In 2018, Lars and his team partnered with Liquid Barcodes to develop the app-based subscription program.
According to Ed Van Etten, North American Car Wash Director and Accelerator at Circle K, “we were excited about the potential of a subscription program but we knew we needed to work with real industry experts for it to be successful. Liquid Barcodes gave us the commercial guidance we needed as well as the powerful platform capabilities to run it effortlessly.”
When talking in the podcast episode about the need to create such a program, Hecht says “a subscription can be many, many things, and eventually, it’s all about loyalty and making sure that people keep their business with you.” He goes on to say that “in my opinion, [subscriptions are] a very important tool in the loyalty box.”
Hecht further explains in the podcast that “it has been quite a journey and it’s been an interesting education for us, as well as for our management team.” He continues, “you can say you don’t want to have a subscription system and then customers will probably look for other suppliers of this service. It’s because the whole world is subscription. Look at books. Look at music. Look at whatever you do, it’s subscription this and a subscription offer after that, and I think that we haven’t seen the end of this in the near future, for sure, and I think it will be fascinating to see it in other categories.”
In addition to monthly car wash subscriptions, Circle K offers a monthly “Sip & Save” beverage subscription program entitling members to one drink a day from either the fountain, tea, coffee, or frozen selections.
Beacon Technology Integration with Car Wash Subscription Technology
Circle K and Liquid Barcodes partnered with Gimbal, a U.S. beacon technology company, to integrate Bluetooth Low-Energy (BLE) Beacons with the car wash payment terminals to provide an instantaneous user verification process. While the non-beacon user authentication process was already quick, the beacon communication cuts that time into milliseconds.
Prior to the beacon installation, a subscriber would need to scan a QR code, likely needing to open their vehicle window to capture the image. In the instance that a customer does not wish to scan the QR Code, they are asked to input a number listed on the terminal.
Paula Thomas, a global loyalty expert, and host of the podcast remarks about the use of beacons as “the first time I’ve heard of it being used in an operational context like that,” noting that beacons have traditionally been used for customer identification for promotional offers.
Hecht explained that he worked carefully with the Gimbal team to “get the beacon just to react within a few feet or meters around the outdoor payment terminal because you can get it to reach all the way out to the road, which is not really what we want with this beacon, so I think it’s a fine balance here, not to spam people.”
As the team looks to continue beacon installation across the U.S. and Canada, Van Etten says they “look forward to rolling out this technology nationwide. Preliminary feedback from users has demonstrated amazing promise.”
Testing and Learning. The Beacon Technology Car Wash Endeavor
Lars Hecht and his team certainly continue to push the industry to innovate and this technology integration is just one of many ground-breaking endeavors on a global scale.
Thomas closed the podcast interview asking if there was anything important to leave listeners with and Hecht encourages listeners to not be afraid to try the impossible. He says to “test, learn, fail, fail fast, move on. There is no end to this, there are versions. They are not one-size-fits-all and it is just to go out and kill it because if you don’t, someone else will.”
Circle K’s mantra to employees is “let’s make it easy so folks can take it easy.” Circle K is living the brand promise with these continual process improvements!
About Liquid Barcodes
Liquid Barcodes is a leading global loyalty and digital marketing technology company specializing in the convenience and foodservice industries. The proprietary, cloud-based technology platform allows retailers to create and manage their digital marketing campaigns with a process called the “customer connection cycle’ to engage, promote and reward customers’ activities in real-time across digital and media channels.
Liquid Barcodes loyalty platform is powering car wash programs for industry leaders across several global markets, by offering unique subscription, gamification, loyalty, and personalization capabilities and has developed this app for use across all of Circle K’s car wash sites.
Learn more about Liquid Barcodes at LiquidBarcodes.com.
About the Author
Carolyn Schnare, Chief Content Officer, Liquid Barcodes
Carolyn Schnare has been involved with the convenience retailing industry for two decades with extensive knowledge of customer engagement and marketing, sustainability, and community outreach. Prior to Liquid Barcodes, Schnare worked at NACS (National Association of Convenience Stores) in a variety of roles from event production to membership and most recently as Director of Strategic Initiatives and host and producer of the popular industry podcast, Convenience Matters.