Demystifying the 200+ “Parking app ecosystem”
By Mark Lawrence
If you have attended a trade show recently, you know parking apps have been springing up all over the place. It may seem that all these apps are directly competing with one another. In reality, the parking app landscape is more diverse than meets the eye, and some apps may be better suited than others for your operations.
On-Street Vs. Off-Street Parking Apps
The first important distinction to make is whether the app is meant for on- or off-street parking. Many apps (such as Parkmobile, Passport and Pango) help drivers find street parking and pay for it through their mobile phone.
While street parking apps certainly vary in many ways, from redemption method to user experience. That’s not what we’re focusing on here. In this article, you will find a comparison of the parking apps that have the goal of putting cars in an off-street facility.
There are four distinctions within the off-street parking app category: reservation, on-demand valet, valet payment and information apps.
If you are an off-street parking operator, these types of apps all want to put vehicles in your facility, but their mechanisms are very different.
Parking Reservation Apps Are All Different
Reservation apps can be thought of as a web and mobile marketing platform for your parking facility. They allow you to reach customers who are looking for parking online or on their phone. Drivers can search for parking and reserve a spot on the app. You can strategically price your inventory on a reservation app to optimize sales by time and location, minimizing unfilled spots.
Here are some parking reservation apps to know:
ParkWhiz — The category leader in event parking, it currently has partnerships with booking agents such as StubHub and ShowClix. Google Play, the platform for downloading Android apps, places the app in the category of 50,000 to 100,000 installs. The company has 461 customer reviews on Google Play. Its website states that they operate in 150-plus cities.
spothero — Its strength is in transient and monthly parking, and in providing yield management for its parking partners. SpotHero also offers event parking but focuses more on attracting customers who might choose an alternative form of transportation other than driving. It has 100,000 to 500,000 installs and 866 reviews on Google Play. The company also has an iOS app and operates in 12 cities across the country. (Full disclosure: I am a Co-Founder of SpotHero.)
parking panda – This company also has event parking as a core strength. Some of its most powerful partnerships are with Major League Baseball, the Verizon Center, DC, and Amtrak. Parking Panda has 10,000 to 50,000 installs and 163 customer reviews on Google Play. The mobile app also is available on iOS and Windows. The company lists 39 cities of operation on its website.
We couldn’t discuss parking reservation apps without mentioning their fees. The way that these apps make money is by taking a commission on transactions. They use this revenue to market your facility to an online and mobile audience. While it may initially seem desirable to partner with a reservation app with lower fees, I would argue that it is more important to find a company that can drive the most customers to your facility. In other words, focus on overall incremental revenue, not per-transaction fee.
On-Demand Valet Apps Are Newest Trend In Parking Apps
On-demand valet apps rose to popularity in 2014, and they also put vehicles into off-street facilities. The concept is simple. Just like an operator, they valet cars, but with the added benefit of leveraging technology in the form of a mobile app.
From a parking operator perspective, the on-demand valet company gets access to your inventory of spots and will park their customers’ cars there. You can bring in extra cars from an on-demand valet to increase profits, but recognize that the consumer will never have any interaction with your company, so this may not be the best strategy to acquire repeat customers.
From a consumer perspective, a driver can request a valet anywhere in the city, the valet will come pick up the car, park in an off-street facility, and return the car to the driver when it is requested again.
Unlike the reservation apps, which tend to occupy a specific niche of the market, on-demand valet apps are too new of a category to really differentiate between the companies, other than by cities of operation.
Here are some on-demand valet apps to know:
Luxe: SF, LA, Chicago, Seattle, Boston; Zirx: SF, Seattle, LA, DC, San Diego; Carbon: SF; ValetAnywhere: NYC; Blucar: Boulder and Denver, CO; Beverly Hills and San Diego, CA; Zwayo, SpotLight Parking and Veer: all three in Boston; and Valet Valet, an aggregator of all on-demand valet apps designed to get drivers the best deal.
If you are mostly looking for an additional revenue source without the possibility of attracting new customers, an on-demand valet app may be just the boost you need.
One last thing to consider is liability: Who is responsible for the security of and damage to vehicles parked in your facility by a valet app?
Valet Payment Apps Are Great for
Valet payment apps are another class of valet apps that are often confused with on-demand valet apps. They simply provide a mobile payment platform for your valet facility. With these apps, drivers will still be coming to your facility, but will have the option to pay via mobile phone to park there.
Valet payment apps often partner specifically with restaurants to provide a mobile valet payment option for their customers. These apps also are relatively new, so it is difficult to distinguish between them, other than where they operate. Here are some valet payment apps to know: Parche: Chicago; Vatler: San Francisco; and Curbstand: more than 10 cities nationally.
If you operate any valets attached to restaurants, these payment apps provide a unique solution for accepting mobile payments. They also allow you to reach more customers who would rather pay for parking via mobile.
Parking Information Apps Give Drivers the Data They Crave
The last major category of off-street parking apps are information apps. These provide data on where parking facilities exist and how much they cost, but with a few exceptions, they don’t do transactions on the app itself. Listing your company on an information app will allow drivers to locate your facility and compare your locations and rates to surrounding facilities.
Here are some parking information apps to know:
parkopedia – Its site and apps (iOS, Android and Windows) have aggregated parking information from 52 countries. You can access a live count of the total parking spots on its platform at the top of its website. The Parkopedia Android app has 100,000 to 500,000 installs on Google Play.
parkme – It started out as a purely informational app, but it now offers reservations at some locations, as well. ParkMe has licensed out their information to other companies and provided the app software for parking operators such as Colonial and ABM, so they can show only their facilities. The ParkMe Android app has 100,000 to 500,000 installs on Google Play.
bestparking — This app provides parking information about all major cities in the U.S. and many in Canada. The company has a particularly strong following in New York City, and like ParkMe, has begun offering some reservation services as well. It also provides a “white label” app for Icon Parking and Parkway Corp. The BestParking Android app has 500,000 to 1,000,000 installs on Google Play
While it is more difficult to track when a customer finds your facility on an information app, it certainly is an opportunity to reach more people looking for parking online and via mobile. A partnership with one of these apps costs you nothing, and allows you to provide accurate information about your facility to consumers, often including location photos.
You Know What’s Best for Your Business
The parking app landscape can seem overwhelming at first, but understanding the different types of apps makes the process of choosing a partner much easier. You know better than anyone what the biggest challenges are for your business. Once you identify where your opportunities for growth are, it’s easy to determine which type of parking app would have the largest impact on your business. After that, shop around, take advantage of the options available to you, and make an informed decision.