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

Rental car companies have introduced features in their apps to help customers through the often-burdensome experience of acquiring a car. Based on the results of the 2020 National Technology Readiness Survey conducted by Rockbridge, customer usage of these app features has increased since last year, particularly in using an app to upgrade their vehicle, select their exact vehicle, and go directly to their car instead of waiting in line.

Despite the increase in usage of these car rental app technologies, usage remains low overall with only about a quarter of customers or fewer who have used these app features.  This is especially the case for customers using a rental car app to either unlock/lock their rental car or flash their vehicle’s headlights to locate the car, which are the two features with the largest increase in potential compared to last year.

Consistent with other app-based technology, younger car renters make greater use of apps to manage their rental experience.  Four-in-ten under age 30 have used an app to upgrade their vehicle or to select their exact vehicle after making the reservation, which increased from last year. While younger consumers are more likely than their older 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, especially as interest in using these features grows year over year.  These features are especially important in the long run because of their higher usage and interest among younger renters.

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 study is conducted annually, with this wave being done in March 2020 and is based on an online survey of 1,216 U.S. adults sampled at random from a consumer research panel. Results are weighted to match census characteristics.

Written by: Sara Farbry, Vice President, Methods