Technology and car manufacturers are racing to perfect self-driving vehicles. Google’s Waymo is already operating vans in Arizona that will take passengers to different locations like a coffee shop or nearby retailer inside geo-fenced testing zones.

These vans still have drivers for safety, but this program is an indication of where autonomous vehicle technology is headed – consumers will soon be delivered to retailers’ and restaurants’ doors.

Volvo, Mercedes, Google, Apple, and Uber are vying to be the first to launch mainstream sales and services built on autonomous technology. Rightfully so, the industry is projected to generate billions in sales, improve efficiency and cut delivery costs. The focus right now is to get these vehicles on the road, which according to Tesla and Toyota could happen as soon as later this year or early 2020.

And, once consumers don’t have to worry about keeping their eyes on the road and steering, they will have plenty of time on their hands in vehicles to shop, watch TV, read the news, whatever they want.

The automotive industry is already encouraging consumers to adopt these habits. Dashboard technologies have already been integrated by manufacturers like GM. Its vehicle infotainment systems allow drivers to order and pay for items — like a coffee or a taco — with a tap of the screen in their vehicle.

Consumers have been trained for years to turn to dashboard screens for directions and traffic reports and today’s advanced screens can give news updates or even post to social media. The step to consumers shopping for groceries, clothes, athletic gear, home goods, etc. while riding in their autonomous vehicle will not be a large one, at least where the consumer is concerned.

Studies already indicate that consumers prefer to shop online for items they can pick up locally. According to data from Doddle, 68 percent of U.S. consumers have shopped using a buy online pickup in store option, with 50 percent of people saying they’ve decided what store to buy from based on local pickup availability. Why wait for next-day shipping when an item can be picked up in a few hours or even minutes locally?

When a consumer is shopping on a screen in an autonomous vehicle, for an item that is available nearby, arranging a pickup will be part of the checkout process. Once the consumer taps buy now and choose a location for pickup in the area, the car will be programmed to drive there at the selected pick-up time.

Knowing that consumers prefer to buy local and are already being primed to shop in their vehicles, retailers, grocers and restaurants need to be thinking about how they will execute advertisements on vehicle screens.

On the way to school for morning drop-off a grocery app could remind a busy parent that the milk carton is empty and to buy dog food. At this moment, grocery stores in the vicinity of the self-driving vehicle could send notifications on milk and dog food sales prices or push digital coupons. With a tap of the finger, an ad could be selected, an order placed and after drop-off the vehicle could take mom or dad to the store before heading back home.

This example of in-vehicle shopping could be replicated for any type of retailer and any type of buying decision. It could also be linked to a consumer’s browsing history and social media platforms, with pop-up ads for items that were added to a shopping cart appearing when the vehicle is a nearby a store with that item in stock. If a consumer decides to make a purchase based on an ad on the screen the vehicle could again be programmed to drive to the pickup location at a scheduled time. 

In the next year or so, as self-driving vehicles become available to consumers and move out of testing phases for ride services it will be interesting to see how other industries are impacted.

Based on current data it seems like autonomous vehicles will create new opportunities for brick and mortar retailers to compete with e-commerce marketplaces like Amazon and Walmart. In-vehicle advertising could also be beneficial for local restaurants and coffee shops that offer digital pre-ordering. One question that remains to be answered — and there seems to be no clear answer to at this point — is who will own the screen in the vehicles and how that system will be monetized to benefit all parties involved in transactions.