Renting Cars in the 2020s: How Digital Technology Improves the Consumer Experience

Rental car companies have started introducing features in their apps to help customers through the often-burdensome experience of acquiring a car.  For example, customers may use an app to bypass the line and go directly to their car [1] or locate their car by having it flash its lights [2].  While these innovative features may offer great value, consumers may not be aware they are available.  Based on the latest results of the National Technology Readiness Survey conducted by Rockbridge, many U.S. consumers who have recently rented a car are interested in using mobile apps to help manage their car rental or interact with their rental car, but few have actually used these features.

About the Study: The National Technology Readiness Survey is conducted by Rockbridge Associates, Inc. and A. Parasuraman, and has tracked technology and e-commerce trends since 1999. The survey is co-sponsored by the Center for Excellence in Service at the Robert H. Smith School of Business. The most recent wave was conducted in May 2019 and is based on an online survey of 1083 U.S. adults sampled at random from a consumer research panel. Results are weighted to match census characteristics.

In the case of using an app to skip the check-in line, only 20% of renters have used such a feature in the past 12 months, but another 48% are interested in using the feature in the future, bringing its total potential to two-thirds (68%) of renters.  There is nearly as much enthusiasm for other app features, including using it to select their desired vehicle, upgrading, or having the vehicle flash its lights for easy location.  A tenth (11%) have used an app to unlock and lock their car, but the feature is of interest to over half (51%) of renters.

Consistent with other app-based technology, younger car renters make greater use of apps to manage their rental experience.  A third of those under age 30 have used an app to locate their car, select their preferred vehicle, or skip the check-in line. While younger consumers are more likely than their counterparts to have already used some form of rental car technology, there is still plenty of opportunity to appeal to young and old alike using the various forms of digital technology in the future.

In a sea of car-rental sameness, companies have an opportunity to differentiate themselves by emphasizing how these innovative features make the rental process easier and more efficient for consumers.  These features are especially important in the long run because of their higher usage and interest among younger renters.

Written by: Sara Farbry, Vice President, Methods

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