In today’s digital society we are becoming increasingly immersed in shopping online for goods like food, clothes and even white goods without ever seeing the items in the flesh. Every day we are influenced by cleverly targeted adverts and recommendations that are based on our unique browsing and purchase history. This is just one small example of how technology is fundamentally changing our expectation of customer experience.

But technology isn’t always the complete solution.

It is well documented that most new car buyers start their journey online but recent research by Deloitte highlights that when it comes to making a new car purchase, most consumers are yet to embrace digital aids to complete the transaction.

Deloitte’s findings (based on US consumers) showed that 90% of vehicle buyers across all generations prefer the immediate, tactile experience of physically interacting with a vehicle before making their final purchasing decision. The research also highlights that 70% of buyers indicate they prefer face to face interactions with showroom staff, and nearly two-thirds of buyers say they would rather conduct price negotiations in person to secure the best deal.

Many manufacturers are experimenting with online sales channels, but these preferences imply that most automotive consumers have yet to embrace a fully digital vehicle purchasing experience – and may also help to explain why the wave of online shopping that is taking over many retail sectors has yet to fully disrupt the automotive retail industry.

However, it is important to recognise that some digital technologies can elevate the car buying process and Deloitte suggest that manufacturers and dealers seeking to invest in customer-focussed digital capabilities may wish to consider the following to help convert customers from the digital showroom to physical showroom visits:

  1. Retain any data collected during the customers online research phase to help create a seamless and tailored experience at the dealership. Customers are frustrated when their digital journey is not recognised when they reach the showroom.
  2. Leverage related online capabilities, such as finance pre-approvals, finance protection product explanations and part exchange valuations to increase transparency and accelerate the car-buying transaction. That means creating data aggregation capabilities that integrate information across multiple dealer systems. This will reduce friction and increase speed during the transaction phase of the cay buying process.
  3. Don’t let the dealership be defined by the walls that hold up the roof. Potential customers are everywhere. The flexibility to engage with customers in the own terms in an office, home or coffee shop with phone, video chat or AR/VR can be integral to automotive retailing going forward.

All of this data reinforces to us that personal interaction with a salesperson is still integral to the process of selling a car. The tools they use may change, but these should all add to the salesperson’s armoury, creating a seamless digital to physical buying process.

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