NEW YORK -
More and more people are looking for their next vehicle online. That’s changed the nature of brick-and-mortar shopping, with many buyers starting the process digitally and finishing it at the dealership.
But a recent survey from Accenture revealed that shoppers are feeling a disconnect between their web and showroom experiences.
Consumers in the U.S., China and Germany who recently purchased a vehicle were asked to rate their perception of “seamless integration” on a scale of 1 to 4, with 4 being “most integrated.” The average rating was 2.32.
“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 Axel Schmidt, managing director in Accenture’s automotive practice.
“As digitization 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," Schmidt continued.
Accenture made a distinction between consumers who shop online frequently (“Digital Natives”) and those who are more conservative online users (“Digital Laggards”). The report found that Natives visit the dealer more often than Laggards: 60 percent of them stop at their dealership more than twice before buying a car, while only 47 percent of latter do so.
Natives may need less time at the dealer because they have made their buying decision online. This emphasizes how the showroom’s role is being redefined as the place to finalize the purchase of a car, rather than the traditional starting point. The survey also showed that nearly all car-buying decisions are made online, and many customers do not believe that in-person interaction is necessary at each stage of the transaction.
Survey respondents also indicated there is room for improvement in digital channels as well as showrooms. Nearly half (43 percent) would consider purchasing a new vehicle online if prices were lower than those at the dealership. This is true for half of the Laggards, who said they would buy new vehicles online if prices were cheaper. They are also interested in advanced product configurators, online chat consultation, and enhanced reality-based experiences.
In terms of offline improvements, the survey found that in addition to wanting expert product advice, many respondents would like staff to be available to answer additional questions and provide recommendations regarding their purchase throughout the buying process — not just in person.
“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.”
While Accenture found that many buyers do not believe face-to-face interaction is necessary at every stage of the process, some parts of the process, i.e. clear-cut trade-in value and deal structure, can be difficult without it. Mike Burgiss, vice president of digital retailing at Cox Automotive, addressed the so-called “missing piece” in digital auto retailing in a recent Auto Remarketing story.
Buying preferences vary by country
Accenture found notable differences in where consumers wish to buy their cars. For example, interest in buying from an online store was highest among U.S. buyers at 19 percent, versus 15 percent of Chinese buyers and 10 percent of German buyers. Other findings:
—Chinese consumers showed the strongest preference for flagship stores, with 37 percent saying they would buy their next car at such an outlet, and 28 percent preferred picking up their new car from their dealer.
—Prospective buyers in Germany showed the strongest interest in buying a car at a standard dealership, with nearly half (46 percent) citing such a preference as their vehicle purchase location. Sixty-one percent also preferred picking up their car from the dealer. Twenty percent were open to auto retail outlets featuring advanced technologies, such as virtual reality experiences.
—Only 14 percent of U.S. respondents would prefer to purchase a vehicle from a flagship outlet. Thirty-five percent still prefer buying from a standard dealership.
“Despite these market differences, it is clear that automotive retail business models throughout the global market need to undergo a dramatic transformation to fully benefit from the multi-channel customer and fend off new market entrants, whose platform business models have already disrupted the second-hand car market,” said Schmidt.
Accenture carried out an online survey of approximately 3,000 consumers in China, Germany and the U.S. The survey participants are a representative number of private car buyers in each market who had purchased a new car in the past five years.