Those in the automotive industry understand that manufacturers and dealers are essentially separate businesses. But when it comes to shopping and buying, consumers don’t particularly care how the business is structured — they just want a seamless experience.
Unfortunately, when it comes to car buying, they've learned not to count on positive experiences at all. In fact, a Gallup poll on honesty and ethical standards showed 91 percent of consumers felt that car dealers were either average or very low in honesty in the U.S. (second only to members of Congress).
Whether or not this perception is accurate, the current model allows poor experiences to continue occurring, which drives consumers to do avoid dealerships as much as possible. While they increasingly choose online channels, any and all inconsistencies between the digital and brick-and-mortar experience only serve to reinforce their lack of trust in auto providers.
These discrepancies in experience represent a huge opportunity for manufacturers and dealers — and also for industry startups eager to disrupt the status quo. Taking a customer-centric approach on the automotive space, these newbies are on the rise — but with the right approach to digital integration, OEMs and dealers can stay ahead.
Competition is evolving quickly. In the used car segment, for example, a new breed of startups has cropped up with digital retailing at their core. Innovators such as Beepi, Carvana and Shift are leading the charge in highly differentiated consumer experiences, offering nearly all services, including purchase, online. They are clearly redefining the car-buying experience and putting the consumer in the driver’s seat by providing a greater sense of control and convenience throughout.
Purchase behavior is changing, both on- and offline. In addition to competition for online sales, another powerful market force is the shift in consumer behavior precipitated by changing generational ideals. Studies show that Millennials do a tremendous amount of research online and on mobile, but still prefer to walk into a dealership to purchase a vehicle. And more than half of them are advising friends and family to do the same. These statistics further emphasize the need for tighter integration between digital and in-dealership experiences as avenues to customer appreciation and loyalty.
The car business, like many others, is built on relationships. Both the digital tools and (more importantly) the people behind the tools, need to work in concert to help build these relationships and reinforce trust by giving consumers a sense of ease, consistency and control.
- Ease: Research shows that the vehicle detail page on a dealer site is the #1 indicator of purchase intent. Best practices such a seamless UX and compelling content will help keep customers engaged and propel them to the next stage in the purchase process.
- Consistency: A consistent customer experience doesn’t only make for happier consumers; it also cuts down on marketing costs by leveraging investments that OEMs have already made. Reusing assets across OEM and dealer sites, as well as brick-and-mortar retail experiences, is one example of this win-win scenario. Consistency on pricing and offers is also key to building trust and loyalty.
- Control: There are many scenarios in which both dealers and consumers can benefit from digital self-service tools. A great example is inventory: be clear about inventory and keep it updated in real time. While it’s true that consumers sometimes visit a dealership and walk away with a different car, the decision to do so should be the result of a value-added conversation versus a bait and switch tactic. These conversations are made richer by the data collected in self-service scenarios.
These three tenets — ease, consistency and control — are simple gauges for evaluating your current digital customer experience and building for the future.