ROTTERDAM, The Netherlands -- On-demand fueling had been the realm of startups such as Filld and Booster Fuels until major oil Royal Dutch Shell began testing its own service in Rotterdam, The Netherlands, in May 2017.
Shell TapUp has a user experience similar to that of other on-demand fueling providers. Customers order a fill-up through the Shell TapUp app, selecting the type and amount of gasoline or diesel and a time and location for delivery. One unique spin on Shell’s offer is the delivery vehicle. Whereas other on-demand services use some type of fuel storage truck, Shell delivers with a custom-designed, compact, electric-powered truck. It’s a nod to the Dutch government’s plan to require that all new vehicles sold be emission-free by 2030, and it’s a quieter, less polluting option.
Six months later, London-based Shell is learning a lot from how customers are using the TapUp service—and, in the process, evolving the fuel-retailing offer.
“What’s interesting in this digital, disruptive business is sometimes you have to be willing to pivot and change your observation on technology or what you thought you’d get out of it,” Stuart Blyde, Shell's global innovation manager, told CSP Fuels.
Read on for the latest developments on Shell’s on-demand venture ...
B2C vs. B2B
Shell initially considered TapUp a service for the end consumer—think stay-at-home moms or office workers. While it continues to have business-to-consumer applications, TapUp has a growing and comparatively larger business-to-business (B2B) client base.
“What we’ve found is the people who are really interested and love the product more were those B2B businesses where they wanted our truck to drive into their businesses and not only fuel up one car, but fuel up a number of cars making deliveries,” Blyde said.
Shell continues to adjust the TapUp user experience to address the B2B customer's needs. “You need to be quite adaptive; you can’t blindly think the answer’s X and actually it could be Y,” said Blyde.
TapUp has also given Shell an opportunity to learn about the buying behavior of on-demand fuel customers.
“That’s the piece with TapUp: People schedule it a bit more; they’re a bit more pattern-oriented," said Blyde, citing preferences for certain times and days of the week. “When they’re on the go, they can be more random and sporadic about whether they want or need to fuel up.”
TapUp has potential beyond The Netherlands, execs say, including the United States, where Shell has about 14,000 branded locations. But for now, Shell wants to learn as much as it can from the Rotterdam test.
“Once we’ve worked out how it works, how we scale it would be a question,” said Blyde. “In the moment, let’s ... embrace the whole way that TapUp would operate in a city-center environment.”
Beyond new markets, TapUp could also expand into new fuels, beyond gasoline and diesel. Erik Miedema, managing director of Shell TapUp, envisions offering delivery some day of biofuels or hydrogen, or offering charging for electric vehicles.
"We don't intend to be a petrol site on wheels,” Miedema told Shell’s Inside Energy publication. “We're really trying to build a new energy infrastructure.”
Here's a look at the TapUp service in action:
Shell is also flexing its digital muscle to better connect with customers at the fueling site. In Istanbul, it is testing delivery of food and beverages to customers at the pump at six locations. Like TapUp, this offer has undergone some changes since its launch. For one, customers initially were ordering through an app on their mobile phone.
“Then we realized: What if instead of getting users to bring their own device, what if we handed a tablet through the window as we do fueling for them?” Blyde said. “The customer sits in the car. We give them a digital ordering menu. They have a look at the products, choose while we’re putting V-Power Nitro+ (premium gasoline) in their tank, and then when they come to pay the fuel bill, the retailer is bringing out a Deli2go panini or hot chocolate.
“That’s the fantastic piece digital gives us: the ability to actually experiment around the customer experience, see how we can differentiate ourselves to be the default place to go for people to get their energy needs or grab a great beverage or snack," he said.
For more on how Shell is changing the fueling experience through digital technology, watch for the February issue of CSP magazine.