• Indian Oil Corp to introduce pre-booking of slots at petrol pumps to avoid congestion

    You may soon be able to avoid queues at petrol pumps by pre-booking your slot, or pay for the fuel without reaching for your wallet or card. Indian Oil Corporation, which accounts for nearly half of all filling stations in the country, is planning to offer customers these conveniences shortly.

    The state-run company is building a technology platform that will help ease congestion at filling stations, cut waiting time and raise service level for customers, BS Canth, director (marketing) said.

    This comes at a time when Indian OilBSE 2.01 % Corporation, the nation’s largest refiner and fuel retailer, is in the midst of defending its market share as private players such as Reliance Industries and Essar Oil and other public sector rivals expand.

    As per the plan, customers will be able to book a slot on their way to a filling station so that they don’t have to wait in a long queue. The filling stations will display slot vacancies, guiding customers to the right nozzle. Vehicles will be given radio frequency identification (RFID) tags for automatic identification and payment, Canth said.

    The company plans to run a pilot on these initiatives in six-eight months, he said. Like some other fuel retailers, IOC has already tied up with mobile wallet providers, making payments easier.

    “This is going to be a second revolution in retail,” said Canth, referring to the ever-increasing role of technology in raising the service level and standardising operation. These services are being planned because the “customers have come to expect these things now”, he said.

    The first revolution in fuel retailing happened at the beginning of the last decade following a deregulation of petrol and diesel sales, Canth said. Then the private players, led by Reliance, stormed the fuel retailing market, raising the level of service and grabbing a large market share from state firms.

    A spike in oil prices forced the government to bring back fuel sales regulation just a few years later, but by then the public sector had learnt its lessons. They expanded heavily, raised the level of service and invested in branding.

    “I can’t ignore the competition. I need to continue to innovate to stay the market leader…Soon we should be reengineering our offerings,” Canth said. The company is working on a plan to tailor its services based on “location and demographics”, he said.

    To drive home his point, Canth said customers in smaller towns and rural areas may not value fast filling as much as people in big cities do. “But if we were to provide all services at all locations, it would raise our cost. Therefore, we have to distinguish between what people appreciate at different places and accordingly plan our offering,” he said.

    Another area that the company is focused on is strengthening its presence on highways, more of which are being constructed or widened these days. It has begun building highway pumps with multiple facilities for travellers such as eateries, entertainment, bathing and resting facilities. Chris Harris Jr Womens Jersey

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