As the automotive industry undergoes a digital transformation, assumptions about consumer habits are being challenged. With the ability to buy a car online without speaking to a single person, a new generation of customers with increasingly different buying behaviours have begun rewriting the rules for automotive sales.

Familiar with services offered by digital giants such as Amazon, a new wave of customers are demanding options to buy online with honest and transparent price tags. Newcomers to the market are capitalising on these changes as buying behaviours and customer expectations are setting the standards for a new sales strategy, but can the dealerships move completely online? Or is there still a future for showrooms.

 

Buying habits

 It's no surprise that 79% of consumers are taking to Google to do their research before heading to their local dealership to purchase their first car, Research conducted by CarKeys.co.uk (2018) found that: 

  • 84% used a mobile device for research
  • 57% browsed for car inspiration on their mobile
  • 59% researched and compared prices/specifications on their mobile
  • 61% searched for nearby dealerships, requested brochures, and booked test drives on their mobile and
  • 9% purchased a car on their mobile

While website functionality and a strong online presence is important for car dealerships, ensuring mobile compatibility is crucial when securing potential customers. Power has shifted from dealerships to the informed customer so honest, transparent and reliable information coupled with an easy to use website will increase engagement and conversions.

 

Personalisation is an expectation

In the past, the trend of personalised experience was classed as a 'nice to have' in the automotive industry but now it's expected. Uninspired by traditional pushy sales, customers are ignoring generic and irrelevant emails flooding their inbox and are beginning to value personalised and tailored customer journeys.

When implementing your campaign, it is essential that you don't make the customer feel like a number towards a target. Instead, always lead with your customer and why your products are right for them. Throughout your sales strategy, the ability to offer flexible and reliable finance will set your dealership apart from the rest and nurturing leads will drive you closer towards a sale.

 

Generational differences

To truly understand online buying behaviours, it is important to look at generational differences in the UK. As of now, there are four key demographics that economists have recognised as distinct markets:

  • Baby Boomers (1946-1964)
  • Gen X (1961-1981)
  • Gen Y (more popularly known as Millennials, 1980-2000) and
  • Gen Z (1995-2010) 

There is an outdated assumption in the automotive industry that Baby Boomers are shopping in-store and Millennials online. The buying habits of older generations are changing, and the sector shouldn't ignore this. Baby Boomers are a tech-savvy generation and are comfortable browsing and shopping online. With plenty of disposable income, dealerships must take the time to carefully consider their online presence through the eyes of the Baby Boomer generation, not just younger generations.

Gen Xers might be busy juggling children, a mortgage and a job but they still find the time to browse online - nearly as much as millennials. Although similar, Gen Xers are the most loyal generation favouring known and trusted brands both in-store and online.

Transforming the car dealership industry is the Millenials. Millennials value accessibility and convenience and browse online platforms that compare cars and finance options, rather than go to a dealership. Purchasing a car is often still a very old fashioned experience, in a sector that is still recognised as one of the most sexist industries to work in.

Gen Z is the generation of digital natives that don't know life before the internet, which is evident in their buying habits. Gen Zers are frugal when they make a purchase, using price- checking tools and waiting for sales. Despite this, Gen Zers do find shopping instore preferable, especially for high value items such as cars.

 

Covid-19

While studying generational differences is important when understanding the future of dealerships, in 2020 everything we thought we knew about shopper behaviour was turned on its head by the global pandemic.

As a direct result of Covid-19, many dealerships and showrooms had to be closed as part of the UK's lockdown measures. Some stores, particularly independent franchises, remain shut today. Dealerships that have opened face reduced stock and limited customers who remain wary of the virus and the economic repercussions. These actions have resulted in consumers changing their buying habits, which in many cases has resulted in more transactions moving online.

Experts believe that the pandemic has accelerated innovation, forcing dealers to adapt to digital changes quicker but adopting streamlined digital processes to cut out manual labour and admin will reduce friction when sourcing, stocking and financing.

 

Conclusion

In short, the seismic restructuring of the automotive industry is already unstoppable like a train. As a new generation loses faith with old fashioned showroom charades, efficient click pay models positively lubricate the buying process. There will remain an important role for local showrooms however. Not quick to part with their money, the future generation of shoppers, Gen Z, value physically seeing their purchases but dealerships must transform their online presence and social media space to lure in customers.

We predict that within the next five years, the first touchpoint for all customers will be digital. Showroom visits will drastically decrease, however they will remain a valuable touchpoint for purchase with modern, straight-forward sales.

As a result of the pandemic, we believe that showrooms will rely heavily on technology with the use of VR and AR to increase ROI for independent franchises looking to cut overhead costs and increase efficiency. [Link to blog]