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The Connected Automotive Customer Journey

There is a subtle irony in the fact that one of the most important retail trends today is what is known as “showrooming.” Entirely influenced by smartphone technology, customers are increasingly visiting retail outlets to view the merchandise, try it on, photograph it, and share it on social media or messaging apps before returning home to make the purchase online. You could argue that the trend in automotive showrooms is the exact opposite.

Latest trends into consumer auto-buying behaviours around the world are now showing that only 1-2% of car customers visit a dealership without first having looked it up online. In fact, research by McKinsey show that customers only visit an average of 1.6 dealerships before buying.

As showroom visits have plummeted, the sources used at the start of the connected customer journey have proliferated. In short, it’s not a purchase funnel anymore—it’s a digitally connected online and offline journey that consumers can enter and exit at any point, with a route that can be either direct or circuitous.

With so much information available online, there are fewer and fewer reasons for customers to visit a physical dealership. Here are 3 steps you can take to ensure you are delivering real value, beyond the test drive and servicing:

1. Integrate digital into every aspect of the customer journey

A younger generation of consumers expect technology to be stitched seamlessly into every part of their lives. As consumers become more “data-mature” and aware of the potential for greater personalisation of their experiences, they will expect brands to be equally mature in how they leverage data to enable better retail and service experiences.

Early in the connected customer journey, two key points of contact are social media and manufacturer websites, both of which are related and contribute to overall consideration.

Through social channels like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook, manufacturers are able to be agile, responding to customer queries and capitalising on trends and news events. Ultimately, social media delivers the relationship element that has thus far been lacking in the automotive sphere.

Directing traffic between the social media experience and the dealership visit stands the manufacturer’s website, a channel that generates great excitement and anticipation for consumers ahead of purchasing a car. Car brand sites’ critical role is to help consumers understand the differences between models, allow for customisation as well as to reinforce the customer’s decision by providing open and honest access to third-party reviews and ratings.

With consumers more likely to buy a product after reading a positive online review, it is no surprise that Kia and other card brands such as Hyundai and Vauxhall have formed partnerships with independent review company Revoo.


2. Create a fast and seamless sales experience from the online interactions

Too often there is a disconnect between the ‘brand experience’ in marketing communications and the ‘actual experience’ in the dealership. Whilst consumers are happy to spend significant portions of time researching online, when they visit the dealership, they want things to happen fast and they want the sales experience to follow seamlessly from their online interactions.

For this to happen, members of dealership staff have to be sufficiently trained and have access to information about online configurations and other data sources in the consumer journey up to that point.

3. Create a deep and rich customer experience

Many auto brands have begun to follow the “experience centre” model that has been espoused by Apple and Burberry providing deeper and richer customer interactions rather than the traditional office with a large parking lot attached.

Audi customers can already visit Audi City in London, where they have access to the latest models in a showroom with a boutique feel due to giant interactive screens on which customers can view and personalise vehicles.

Tesla follows a similar model, featuring small showrooms with large screens that allow customers to play with specifications and order a vehicle. Staff members tour the store with iPads, helping customers choose their configurations. It is telling that the Tesla flagship showroom is not situated on a trunk road forecourt but in London’s high-street retail mecca, Westfield.

All retail sectors now understand that they need to create a connected customer journey, and provide the tools and services that simplify the shopping experience and decision-making process through all available channels. The key for auto brands is to be able to read the digital signals, respond to data, and think about how to make their dealerships the “1” in the 1.6 average visits before purchase. Or, to put it another way—if a buyer goes to another dealership, then they’re lost to the brand and almost certainly aren’t coming back.

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