Over the last two years, the auto industry has experienced a great deal of turbulence. From the start of the pandemic when dealerships were forced to shut down, to a huge bounce back in car purchases in the last year. Coupled with the supply chain shortage and its effect on car manufacturing, auto retailers are now able to raise prices to reflect the short supply and high demand. This has been a surprising turn of events in a very short time period for an industry that may have expected to tank at the onset of 2020.
But perhaps the most shocking part was the evolution and speed at which auto retailers, dealerships and manufacturers pivoted to digital alternatives in order to serve their customers. As an industry that traditionally relied on in-person transactions, auto companies were forced to digitize almost immediately. Save for just a handful of forward-thinking car companies whose business already revolved around online car buying, this was a huge change of pace.
The good news is that this evolution has created a better experience for customers, many of whom prefer making purchases and completing transactions online. The other positive is that auto companies now have a huge opportunity to gain business by providing more online offerings to their customers. Here are some of the ways car companies can digitize their business to better serve their customers and stay ahead of the future of auto sales.
Today’s car buyers have made it abundantly clear that they want choices: The choice to search online or in-person, the choice to go to a dealership, try a virtual reality test drive, or arrange a drop-off test drive, the choice to complete financing and contract documents online or in-person.
While many people have become accustomed to purchasing and completing important financial transactions online, a car is a big ticket item. So it’s not surprising that some people want the physical experience of testing out a car — or multiple cars — before making a final decision. Car companies need to cater to different customer journeys, as preference for completing parts of the process online versus in-person will vary from one consumer to the next. For example, millennials are twice as likely as boomers to purchase a car entirely online. Therefore, auto companies need to have processes in place to service both types of customer journeys.
According to market research firm J.D. Power, millennials made up the largest group of car buyers in 2020, accounting for 32% of total new-car sales. This percentage will likely increase as millennials continue to edge out older generations as the primary car buyers. And in time, Gen Z will become the primary buying group. This means that auto companies need to be prepared to cater to these customers who expect something far different than the traditional physical dealership.
So, what is it that younger generations want from their car buying experience? Only 54% of consumers aged 18 to 35 still want in-person transactions, according to an automotive researcher at Deloitte. These numbers are an indication of the imminent need for digital offerings and services, as Gen-Z and millennial consumers become the largest purchasing groups.
There are many ways to implement digital services and online offerings to create a better experience for car buyers.
The car buying process begins with consumers doing online research, so providing interactive and informational online experiences gives car retailers a leg up against their competitors. Online car research serves two primary functions for consumers: first, the time, energy and monetary investment saved by sparing a visit to the dealership. Second, online car buying opens up myriad shopping options, allowing potential buyers to view different colors, styles and extras with the click of a mouse.
Virtual showrooms and the use of virtual reality (VR) is another way to create a seamless online experience for customers. VR gives consumers the experience of being on a physical showroom floor or test driving a prospective car — from the comfort of their own home.
Financing is a significant part of the car buying process, and offering online financing can differentiate your dealership from the competition. With many people being accustomed to online banking, most consumers are comfortable with completing financial transactions online. Therefore, being able to service or facilitate digital loans can streamline the purchase process and create a better customer experience.
While some may prefer to physically test drive a car, most people prefer the convenience of being able to eSign and notarize important documents — such as a bill of sale or title document — completely online. Incorporating a tool like the Notarize platform gives customers the flexibility to purchase a car from anywhere at any time, and speeds up the buying process for all parties involved.
While we’re still in the era where some consumers prefer to handle select parts of the car buying process in-person, the auto industry should start preparing for full digitization. The auto companies that start providing online offerings and services will continue to gain loyalty from millennials and younger generations, which will provide ongoing benefits as these age groups become the primary car buyers.
To learn more, check out our recent eBook: How Car Dealerships Can Create the Best Customer Experience.