Implementing Parking Apps?
Remember to Plan for Revenue Control
Parking apps provide a wide range of services, including allowing a customer to identify available parking spaces, reserve a space before parking, pay for parking, and notify a facility when the customer is ready to leave so the vehicle can be retrieved and waiting as part of a valet service.
In addition to increasing customer convenience and access to parking spaces, apps can significantly reduce the costs involved in equipping previously manual parking facility operations and, in some cases, provide added revenue streams.
So do these technological advancements have any risk? Apps have the potential to if not designed and implemented with revenue control in mind. There are three key areas to consider when evaluating apps for use at a parking facility that will ensure that these solutions have the proper controls in place and that collected revenue is secure.
Remember when companies first started offering Internet validation coupons through their websites back in the early 2000s, and we all quickly realized that employees and customers could easily abuse them? Well, we can apply that same lesson to app redemption codes. Establishing redemption codes with revenue control features in mind will greatly reduce opportunities for these programs to be taken advantage of.
When you are considering offering an app-based alternative to customers, ask yourself the following questions about your operation:
Is your facility equipment able to integrate with the app software allowing these transactions to be processed the same way as others?
If not, will you need an additional type of equipment such as a redemption code reader, and how will this tie in with other equipment such as gates, loops, fee computers, exit lane verifiers and so on?
In cases where the redemption code is displayed on a smartphone, and there won’t be a way to electronically capture the code information, how will it be documented? (Most people will be unwilling to surrender their phone as backup for the transaction.)
Make sure that the app provider offers the following controls, so that the app can be implemented with minimal disruption to your existing operation, while achieving revenue control standards:
Each redemption code should be unique. In scenarios where nothing is collected from the customer or there isn’t a device to capture the redemption code electronically, this code should include a unique number that is visible and can be recorded by your employee or entered into an automated device by the customer.
Whether codes are presented via a barcode, QR code, paper voucher or other means, they should all contain a number that is part of a sequential series. This will make it much easier for you to audit later and easily detect gaps and duplications.
When offering a discount on parking through a redemption code as part of a promotion, be sure to include and communicate an expiration date so the discounted code can’t be used indefinitely.
Some app providers collect the fee directly from the customer, then in turn, remit this revenue to the parking operator. This scenario is very similar to using a third-party processor to collect credit card revenue. It will be helpful to understand the specifics regarding how the provider processes payments, internally; how you will be notified when a purchase or reservation has been made; and whether this information will integrate in some way with facility equipment.
If integration won’t be possible, programming adjustments may need to be made to facility equipment, so that these transactions can be processed and documented. This could include assigning the app a validation code on fee computers or developing a way for customers to enter or scan redemption codes on automated devices.
If a separate device is used to read codes and process transactions, determine how this information can be captured and documented by location employees and how independent lane counter devices and counts will be impacted.
Since the app provider collects the revenue associated with these transactions, you will want to negotiate remittance terms that your company is comfortable with, which could range from 15 to 45 days from the date of the transaction.
Provider Reporting Requirements
The final piece to the puzzle is to determine what you will receive in terms of reports that will allow you to reconcile and audit app transaction and payment activities. Reporting requirements will differ depending on how revenue is collected and whether the app integrates with the facility equipment system.
A helpful starting point in terms of identifying what is needed from a reporting perspective is to look at these solutions the same way you would other facility equipment and programs.
In cases where the app provider is collecting payments, they should make revenue reports available daily that itemize sales. This reporting should include a breakdown of redeemed codes by transaction, including the unique transaction sequence number and rate paid.
There won’t necessarily be a 1 to 1 ratio between these transactions and those processed at the facility, but they will be useful to the auditing process in terms of verifying that transactions completed at the facility are represented on these reports.
In cases where equipment system integration is in place, having this information available will allow auditors to reconcile redeemed codes/transactions to these reports for each cashier, terminal and/or location.
In addition, reports on transaction payments collected by day should be accessible. This information will be essential in your ability to reconcile revenues collected by the app provider as compared with the amount remitted to you.
Given the increasing prevalence of smartphones and apps, and the many benefits they provide to customers and parking facilities, these solutions are here to stay. The key for all of us who manage facilities that use them is to ensure that they work from all points of view.
Contact Vicki Pero, a Principal of The Marlyn Group,