The rental-car industry saw its first signs of disruption when Zipcar launched in 1999. More recently, the emergence of Uber and Lyft have put dents in the business model. Yet the industry has been slow to respond, with mobile innovations rare and websites that seem stuck in a time warp.
Now, Enterprise Rent-a-Car is launching its first customer-facing mobile app, as well as a redesign to its website, courtesy of agency partner Isobar.
The new mobile app enables users to book a car on the go or call for roadside assistance, using location data to make the process smoother. The website, which until recently was focused on transactions, has been revamped and includes branded content, such as articles about travel, food and music.
The digital overhaul represents the brand’s effort to replicate the brand’s in-store customer service in the mobile space, said Lee Broughton, vice president, Enterprise Rent-A-Car Brand Marketing.
"The Enterprise brand is very well known for its customer service ethos that sits behind it, and it’s really driven through people," Broughton said. "But we were aware that the interaction people were having everyday at locations was somewhat difficult to have as an experience online."
Mobile is big business for travel companies, as consumers turn to their handheld devices to make the booking process more convenient. According to eMarketer, mobile will account for over half of all travel bookings made in 2016, growing 18% over 2015.
And yet scour one of the many top travel app lists, and it’s unlikely an app from one of the major car rental firms will be featured. National, Enterprise’s sister brand, launched its app in 2013, Hertz launched its app in 2012, while Avis launched its mobile app in 2009.
"We don’t feel it’s been late or there is a lack of demand — it feels like the right time for our customers," said Broughton about the timing of the mobile app launch.
But disruption in the car rental space keeps coming from new and unexpected places. In addition to Uber and Lyft, a new crop of peer-to-peer car sharing apps like Hubber and Skurt are reconfiguring the future of car rental. And then there is the looming threat of Google’s self-driving cars — a venture with the potential to shake up the market even more.
This means legacy car rental businesses need to "completely rethink" their value proposition and do "something extraordinary" when it comes to user experience, said Alexandra Lutz, group VP of strategy, Huge.
"There is an existential threat for the car rental industry, and they are tweaking on the margins instead of putting customers first. They have to rebuild the business from the ground upwards," Lutz said. That could mean eliminating hassles like long lines at the airport, or upselling from a customer service representative, she said. Ideally, the keys would be in the ignition and the vehicle ready to go, based on the customer’s data.
Of course, such improvements are easier to suggest than implement. "This is easy to say when you are on the sidelines, but a difficult thing to do when you are in it," she said.
The mobile app and revamped website aren’t the only innovations Enterprise has unveiled this week, however. In Denver, the company is testing a pilot program in which rental cars will be made available to Uber drivers at a special rate. The idea is to lower the barrier for potential drivers who want to work with Uber, and — presumably — give Enterprise a role in that rapidly expanding business.