Disruption? Be careful what you ask for!

While Accenture sugar-coats US retail fuel ‘disruption,’ the Russian market is getting uberized.

An Accenture blog describes the ‘disruption’ of the US fuel retail market. The retail landscape across the US is shifting. Consumers are expecting a personalized digital experience, ‘a connection with a brand identity’, and a sense of purpose or ‘belonging to a community’ (really!). Disruption is coming from electric and autonomous vehicles, ride sharing and even mobile fuel delivery. There are ‘competitive threats’ in the convenience market from companies like Walgreens, Starbucks, and Amazon Go, all of which are expanding their offers and targeting the next generation of consumers. Fuel retailers can remain competitive by ‘embracing disruption’ and evaluating how well their current business strategy aligns with customer and consumer behavior and purchasing history across channels and product categories. Leveraging advances in data storage, analytics and visualization can enable ‘ongoing evaluation and creation of insights’.

Comment: It is worth reflecting on what ‘disruption’ really means. Uber moved in on the taxicab market and has trashed what (according to your jurisdiction) used to be a protected, regulated and rather inefficient industry, replacing it with low-cost independent drivers. True disruption is very painful to the incumbent. The Accenture study sugar-coats disruption in that it is presented as a opportunity to do more of the same, but to do it digitally.

Things are getting more interesting in Russia where a new app, ‘Turbo’ from Gazpromneft lets users buy gas in quantity when the price is low and then fill-up at any Gazpromneft station. The app even allows drivers to sell their pre-purchased gas at a higher price to a friend. Turbo raised $300k in a private placement last year. The app appears currently to be tied to Gazpromneft so may not fully uberized. An app from Russian behemoth Yandex that provided a similar service to Lukoil was little more than a loyalty card and has now closed. But Yandex is working on another version of its Yandex Gazstations app and has plans to restart the project by ‘connecting new partners to it’. A truly disruptive development that would see Yandex (or an extended Turbo) uberize Russia’s oils, creaming-off what is left of the retailers’ margin.

Gas purchase apps (GasBuddy, Gas Guru) in the US appear to be more of an information service, letting drivers know where the cheapest gas is available. A truly uberized retail market (in any country) would run into considerable opposition from incumbents who would undoubtedly be reluctant to share their margins with a third party. On the other hand, it could be that regulators might regard a refusal to sell as a rebirth of the cartel. Interesting times.

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