Automakers are turning to all-in-one digital vendors that can service everything from website design to social media for dealerships as online vehicle shopping continues to grow.
Today, many automakers provide a list of a few approved digital vendors for their dealers to choose from to handle their web presence, said Louis-Yves Cloutier, president of 360 Agency in Montreal. Previously, it was typical for an automaker to either have an exclusive vendor or much larger lists of approved vendors, he said.
“[Automakers] realize that if they don’t give enough good choices, you’ll get a lot of retailers that are not going to get on board with these programs,” he said. “[Automakers] see that if you are able to find good and reliable suppliers that have a vision for providing not only short-term but long-term solutions for dealers in the digital space, it will increase the adoption of their programs, leading to better success and brand visibility for consumers.”
Digital vendors such as 360 Agency, Dealercity Canada and others provide a host of digital solutions for dealers, including website design, social-media management and customer-relationship management. The vendors work with dealers who buy their services to tailor their offerings to their needs while making their websites conform to automakers’ requirements.
Automakers are looking to create a more consistent look between their digital presences and those of their dealerships, and they’re turning to some digital agencies to make it happen, said Elisa Krummen, marketing and customer experience manager at Evolio and Dealercity Canada.
“Everyone wants consistency with their look,” she said. “If somebody goes on, for example, a Honda website here in Montreal and is browsing a little more somewhere down in Toronto, you want to have the same look. [Automakers] want conformity throughout their websites.”
Building stronger digital presences has been a priority for automakers and dealers in recent years as more of the shopping process has moved online. Whether they’re successful in doing so could come down to whether automakers and dealers can find the right balance between building an automaker’s brand and providing flexibility for dealers, Cloutier said.
“Retailers want to differentiate themselves, so if there’s not enough good options with different features and different products in the packages, they end up feeling like it’s a onesize-fits-all approach and they lose their soul and identity in these programs,” he said. “So, when [automakers] are able to find a good balance, the adoption rate and efficiency of the digital strategy will increase dramatically.”
As consumers increase their web research before going to a store to buy or lease a vehicle, more of the shopping process is expected to move online. Cloutier said it can be a challenge for automakers and dealers to make sure that the online shopping-to-physical transition is seamless by avoiding repeated steps in-person that were already completed online, for instance. It’s an issue dealers who spoke at the TalkAuto conference in Vaughan, Ont., in November said they were experiencing.
“It’s a tough challenge to make sure that you blend the in-store experience with the exact same experience that the consumer is being told they should expect,” said Shahin Alizadeh, CEO of the Downtown Automotive Group in Toronto. “The key is to blend the two components, one digital, one in-house, rather than focusing on one versus the other.”
Cloutier said it will be crucial for automakers, vendors and dealers to get on the same page to figure out ways to make that happen, calling it the “biggest challenge that the industry is facing.”
“The end consumer should be at the centre of any strategy,” he said. “If we win the consumer, we win the war. It’s where retail is heading. It has to be consumer-centric. Digital retail is offering choice to consumers that they didn’t have before.”