For the first time since the financial crisis in 2009, U.S. annual car sales declined in 2017. The drop in sales come as Millennials and a new generation of drivers demand a retail experience that more closely aligns with the way other industries have evolved. It’s no surprise that recent studies continue to indicate that customers dislike the experience of buying or leasing a new car. In the past, the average car buyer used to visit five dealerships. Now, that number has dropped to two.
As a marketer in the automotive industry, these statistics are hard facts to face, but a challenge that we need to address head on. How do we change the stigma around car shopping to reach the modern car shopper? What is driving purchase intent? How can we increase brand consideration?
Every brand is trying to win customer business and loyalty by improving the customer experience. Innovative brands such as Amazon, Zappos and Venmo are redefining customer expectations in brand engagement and have clearly outlined three pillars that have become the new currency for brands:
1. Save Customer Time
From getting healthy quick-fix meals that make dinner prep a snap, to next-day or even same-day delivery on items, people favor saving time over money. However, the idea of shopping for a new car hasn’t always been synonymous with the terms fast, easy and efficient.
Customers spend a lot of time online researching the right car, only to get to the dealership to negotiate with a salesperson and start the process all over. Everyone has experienced this frustration. Research shows people spend nearly 15 hourson average shopping for their car, and only 56% are happy with how long the in-store sales process takes. We need to redesign the system to save customers time. Streamline the car-buying process to create one seamless experience that starts online and carries all the way through to test drives and dealership interactions.
2. Provide a Transparent Buying Process
The Internet has changed the way customers shop. Digital reviews, price comparison sites and social media have pathed the way for the digitally empowered customer. They are more demanding, research-obsessed, smarter and more informed.
When it comes to brand interactions, they know what they want and how they want it — and the automotive industry is no exception. If given the opportunity, 75% of consumers, would consider transacting some — or even most — of the car-buying process online. Consumers use both price information gathered online and customer reviews to form opinions and decisions. According to Autotrader, third-party sites are the most-used sites for car shopping, accessed by 78% of shoppers. Why not own the price conversation rather than making the customer work for it? Clearly lay out all the options, and eliminate the hassle, providing simplicity and flexibility for both dealer and car buyer.
3. Create a Better Experience with Technology
There are 24 average touchpoints and opportunities for a brand to connect with car buyers, 19 of these being digital (Google Jan. ’16). In addition, only three of those interactions are made directly with a dealer towards the end of the purchase journey, when the customer likely knows exactly the car he or she wants.
Car companies need to reach customers quickly and earlier in the car buying process, in the first moments when a customer turns to digital for information and access. From mobile apps to simplified one-stop shop web tools, we should provide the digital solutions that seamlessly connect customers with data across all channels. Take a page from brands that leverage technology to make the customer journey as smooth as possible, and help shoppers make decisions faster and with ease.
As the modern car shopper continues to evolve, so does the demand for an omni-channel customer experience — connected, user friendly and engaging. In order to succeed as marketers in the automotive industry, we need to embrace innovation, close the gap between online and offline, and create a seamless, efficient and transparent shopping process.