The majority of car buying decisions are made online, but consumers still visit showrooms armed with more specific questions. That’s according to research from Accenture, which indicates that car dealerships have work to do on both online and offline fronts.

Car buyers surveyed by Accenture stated that their expectations are not being met due to poor web/showroom integration — at a time when technology is offering some of the best opportunities for a compelling experience. In the report, Accenture urges automakers and dealers to tighten their multichannel integration strategies and embrace the latest technology — or risk losing sales.

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Accenture carried out an online survey of approximately 3000 consumers in China, Germany and the United States who have purchased a car in the last five years. Rating seamless integration of online and offline experience on a scale of one to four — with four being the most integrated and one the least — they rated their experience 2.32, on average.

“It is clear that automotive retail business models throughout the global market need to undergo a dramatic transformation to fully benefit from the multichannel customer and fend off new market entrants, whose platform business models have already disrupted the second-hand car market,” said Axel Schmidt, managing director in Accenture’s automotive practice.

Auto review sites and dealerships are likely to face emerging competition, following Amazon’s launch of a vehicle research portal in August as well as from car manufacturers selling direct to customers online.

Accenture’s research highlighted the fact that the role of the showroom is changing — to a destination to finalise the purchase of a car, rather than the traditional starting point for initiating the sale. The survey found that nearly all car-buying decisions are made online, and many customers do not believe that in-person interaction is necessary at every stage of the transaction.

“Today’s consumers, influenced by digital technology, are driving the car-buying process. They are visiting showrooms to seek distinct information to supplement the information found on the web, and want counsel from product and customer experts instead of a traditional sales presentation,” said Schmidt. “As digitisation increases, automakers and dealers can no longer afford to ignore full integration of their operations. They must work together more closely than ever to create a truly seamless, multichannel experience to satisfy customers.”

Nearly half (43 per cent) would consider purchasing a new vehicle online if prices were lower than those at the dealership. This is true for half of the Digital Laggard respondents, who said they would buy new vehicles online if prices were cheaper.

Yet lower prices are not the only online enhancements customers would like to see. They are also interested in advanced product configurators, online chat consultation, and augmented-reality-based experiences.

In terms of offline improvements, the survey found that, in addition to wanting expert product advice, many of the respondents would like staff to be available to answer additional questions and provide well-founded recommendations regarding their purchase throughout the buying process — not just in person, at the dealership.

“There are clear opportunities for the industry to improve interaction with customers using new technologies like cloud-based customer relationship management, business-insights software and virtual- and augmented-reality technologies. Automakers and dealers have almost everything they need to make the online/offline experience more compelling, but what they need to do is to bring it all together and make it work,” said Schmidt. “That’s likely to be challenging, but it will be rewarding for those who are able to create strong multi-channel integration.”

Innovation in auto sales

12 months ago, UK-based luxury car dealer Amari moved to bring in-store customer service to its ecommerce channel, adopting a wearable technology solution called GoInStore. Using a pair of smart glasses, online shoppers can connect with in-store car salesmen (see demo below). Using GoInStore’s solution, Ali Keyhani, sales and head of operations for Amari, was able to sell a BMW i8 for £100,000 to a customer based more than 200 miles away – on his very first call.

“Our sales team know every single detail of these cars, even to the level of knowing the tyre pressures,” said Sheikh Amari, CEO of Amari. “This knowledge is difficult to bring across online and we have been looking for ways to bring our expertise into the online environment.

“This new technology enables our customers to travel to our showroom in real time and experience the cars remotely — giving us a competitive edge and the ability to close sales more quickly, providing our customers a totally unique, convenient and trusted car-buying experience.”


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