CES: How the connected car will drive mobile retail

LAS VEGAS — As the Internet of Things (IoT) progresses, automotive technology may offer the ultimate in mobile retail opportunities if car manufacturers, service providers and telematics companies can provide the seamless experience that consumers have come to expect.

That was the message from a panel of speakers at a discussion during the International Consumer Electronics Show titled "Creating a Compelling Connected Car Experience." Moderated by FierceMobileRetail's sister publication, FierceWireless, the group took a deeper look at the IoT, the connected car, wireless services and the future of the connected consumer.

What will be the most important factor in advancing the connected consumer? According to the panel, it won't be the hardware, operating system or even the services offered, but the consumer herself.

"It's all about the customer [and] they want their technology to work with their car," said Philip Abram, chief infotainment officer, General Motors. "Consumers don't care about connected, period, at all. They care about 'can I warm my car in the garage when it's cold outside?' and they care about all the things the technology can do for them, but not the technology itself."

"That's like talking about the transmission fluid," he said. "A good fluid will make it run better... but as far as the customer is concerned that's magic."

And so, too, should be all the elements of the connected car.

CES is playing host to a number of automotive companies. There is a driverless car from Mercedes Benz, a Hyundai that can be started with a smart watch and a BMW that parks itself. There are innovations that work with Android or Apple operating systems. Or, in the case of Hyundai, a car that supports both.

Being platform-and technology-agnostic is also the position supported by General Motors.

"God forbid we make the consumer car about [the platform]," said Abram. "There were 43 million remote interactions with our vehicles in 2014, customers are clearly using our technology. It should be as close to magic to them as we can make it."

And upgradeable. "If we can't upgrade the hardware, we're dead. We're heading toward a 2G train wreck," said John Horn, executive VP and chief strategy officer, Kore Telematics. "Spectrum is a restricted commodity and the only way we're going to provide all the services we want to will be by using that spectrum as efficiently as possible."  

For retailers, reaching consumers in their vehicle is just one step along the path to purchase, and a critical one. Pushing information to shoppers as they pass a store, reminding them to buy milk before heading home from work, syncing with their smartphones to access accurate GPS coordinates and follow them into the supermarket with notices of sales or coupons, are all part of mobile retail's future.

A future that is at hand, based on what's on display and being discussed at CES.