Point-of-sale technology has been a growing factor in running a successful car wash, and the industry shows no signs of slowing down.
By Greg Snow
Point-of-sale technology has been a growing factor in running a successful car wash, and the industry shows no signs of slowing down. More and more operators are closely evaluating their systems and determining ways to improve their sites starting with the POS. In response to this demand, there are multiple point-of-sale companies working to develop their latest hardware and software offerings.
Tunnel equipment and chemicals have always been an important part of planning and maintaining a car wash, but they don’t have that much influence in driving revenue. The quality of the car wash experience is what will keep customers coming back, but the customer experience before the tunnel is especially important. This is recognized as a chance to upsell, sign up for an unlimited program, and gather customer data. Modern POS systems have the power to make you more money and improve the customer experience, ensuring a premium visit from start to finish.
Although it is not always the case, new technologies tend to be developed by government agencies before seeing a commercial application. Two of the world’s most commonly used tools, cell phones and GPS navigation, are both examples of tech that were used in the military before seeing a more widespread release. License plate recognition and facial recognition have made their way from law enforcement and found a role in the car wash. These new tools are positioned to become an important part of the customer experience as well as unlimited programs. Current testing shows that both solutions are now ready to be implemented in a car wash setting.
HOW IT’S BEEN GOING
Many car washes currently use RFID tags to validate memberships, and they have worked well without significant issues. A common concern is that some customers might swap their tags between cars or lend them to friends.
This is usually not a widespread problem, but certain members can ruin it for the rest of us if they choose to abuse the program. Cost per tag can also be a concern, with custom branded tags costing a couple dollars each, on average.
Depending on membership churn, these tags can become a significant expense. Some operators find that members only enroll for a month or two, and these tags end up costing them hundreds if not thousands in the long run. On top of this, customers might drive a vehicle with specialized windshield glass, blocking the RFID reader and preventing verification. If that wasn’t enough, other customers refuse to put on the tag or insist on it being hidden because they don’t want to have visible branding on their car. Overall, RFIDs allow for accurate verification and fast transactions but carry their own set of challenges.
LPR: WHERE IT’S HEADED
The latest advancement in unlimited-program management is license plate recognition (LPR). Made possible by the same technology used in law enforcement, this solution offers quick read rates similar to RFID sensors. After being field tested by agencies around the world, LPR provides a highly accurate reading that can be used to automatically validate members and activate gates. LPR can be used across different lane formats — with a POS booth or with kiosks.
LPR has unique advantages beyond the unlimited program, providing insights for every customer, even non-members. While it is virtually impossible to get every piece of information from every visitor, license plates are a guaranteed data point. The cameras used to run LPR can be placed in each lane, allowing for all traffic to be recognized and recorded.
There are certain circumstances that can affect LPR and make it difficult to get an accurate reading. Although uncommon, weather can impact the visibility for the camera and even block the license plate completely. If the license plate is not reading due to an obstruction like snow, an RFID tag can be used as a backup. This does not help with non-unlimited-program members, but it will ensure that your members can enter seamlessly.
FACIAL RECOGNITION: ANOTHER LAYER
Facial recognition has been the subject of sci-fi and action movies for years, but this technology is real and has many use cases today. You can now unlock your phone by looking at it, demonstrating the convenience and security provided by facial data. Similarly, there is room for customer recognition with any type of membership-based business such as a gym or car wash.
Imagine walking into a business and receiving service without pulling out a key tag, membership card, or bar code. This is exactly what facial recognition can provide. You could walk into your local gym, and be verified as a member without any additional ID or card. The same experience can be implemented at a car wash, using either LPR or facial recognition, or both.
This development provides car wash owners with a range of identification methods to choose from or use all at once. Unlimited-program members can be verified by RFID, by plate, and in the near future, by their face.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
A modern POS can gather transaction data and import this into a customer relationship management (CRM) platform. This is the foundation of digital marketing for a car wash because it provides contact details for e-mail and text campaigns. Gathering this data is an opt-in process, requiring the manual entry either by the customer or with the help of an employee. There are limited data points to look at, and a considerable amount of time is taken to enter these details into the system. What if these details could be collected faster?
A starting point could be personal account management, allowing unlimited-program customers to enter and update their own details with an online portal instead of paperwork and signup forms. This works very well for unlimited-program members, but does not provide much information about non-members. Acknowledging this gap in data, there are now automated solutions that provide car wash owners with even more insights about consumer behavior and site performance.
Especially at high-volume sites, it can be difficult to keep track of your customer base, even if you work there every day. There are familiar faces and loyal customers, but there are also many unknown visitors. They might come in once a month or once a year, and understanding their car washing habits is a guessing game. There needs to be an automated system to look at all visitors in order to determine who is in your customer base and what they are buying.
Onsite cameras can look at license plate and facial data and match these with each transaction. For example, a cash-paying customer drives in and the camera scans the license plate while they order a wash. The system can associate this transaction and the ticket amount with the license plate number, then log that in the CRM. This builds a database of purchase history even in situations where there are missing data points (no e-mail, no credit card token, no phone number, etc.)
I believe this will be the foundation of customer experience and car wash marketing as the industry becomes even more sophisticated and tech-focused. Combining these data points can create a powerful understanding of customers and help create thoughtful, data-driven marketing campaigns. These data points could also be used in real time to customize kiosk workflows for each customer, providing them with a tailored experience while promoting a higher ticket. I am very optimistic about the impact this will have on profitability; these new technologies can be implemented to benefit all stakeholders and create a better car wash.
Greg Snow is the marketing manager at Washify. For sales inquiries or more information about the Washify system, contact Matt D’Souza at (855) 927-4439 or visit washify.com.