Bottlenecks. Detours. Dead ends. In e-commerce, barriers to seamless online movement are as much an issue to car retailers as a physical roadblock would be outside their dealerships.
“Probably the biggest challenge we have as an industry is the silos that exist even coming from a manufacturer’s site to a dealer’s site and not being able to share the customer journey along those two platforms,” luxury-brand retailer Francesco Policaro said during a recent Automotive News Canada panel discussion.
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Add in third-party leads and other online communication channels, and the barriers increase, said Policaro, CEO of the Ontario-based Policaro Group.
Smoothing the online flow was a prime topic during the online session on the future of digital retailing, part of the Automotive News Canada Congress Conversations. The moderator was publisher Tim Dimopoulos.
“I think the strongest [automakers] are the ones that work closest with their dealers and the ones that are most open to change,” Policaro said.
Complexity and competition are the cause of the silos, said Alexander Lvovich, chief strategy officer with Motoinsight, a Toronto-based digital-retailing platform.
A retailer can have separate software for the dealership management system (DMS), customer relationships and for the websites and chat functions and social media that form digital retailing, all from different suppliers. Automakers, meantime, may specify what software companies a dealership can use.
“The reality is that DMS providers, CRM providers and digital-retailing providers historically have been protecting their turf by not integrating,” Lvovich said after the session.
Now automakers are more flexible on supplier choices, and the suppliers themselves are more willing to co-operate with one another to answer consumer demands for “better continuity, better connectivity” across digital platforms, he said.
Just as someone looking for a TV can move from Samsung’s website to BestBuy to Amazon, a car shopper wants the same seamless transition from manufacturer to dealer and third-party retailer sites, the discussion heard.
“Consumer expectation of the retail experience is not necessarily the last time they bought a car — it’s the last time they bought something. And if other verticals can figure it out, they expect the same of our vertical,” said panelist Adam Paterson, marketing director at Nissan Canada.
DIGITAL MORE DEMANDING
Of course, digital retailing is more complicated in auto than in packaged goods. Buying a car has always been a “visceral” process, and retailers need to find ways to incorporate that, Paterson said.
Vehicles are also a big-ticket purchase that few enter into lightly, “but I think the only thing many of our customers feel is more valuable than their money is their time,” he said.
From virtual showrooms to online test-drive booking forms and the acceptance of electronic signatures on purchase documents, panelists agreed that the COVID-19 pandemic has hastened the industry’s embrace of e-commerce.
Yet shoppers still want a human connection. Customers are expressing “purchase intent” online, Policaro said, but want to visit the dealership for a test drive, trade-in appraisal or simply to “build a relationship with us and feel confident in their decision.”
Automakers and dealerships that can best marry e-commerce with traditional sales processes in the so-called “omnichannel” approach stand to gain the most as car buying evolves, session attendees were told.
“The name of the game is to be able to meet the customer where they want to be met, whether it’s online or offline,” said Matt Girgis, managing director of Volvo Car Canada. Dealers have learned that remote selling, even in tandem with traditional approaches, can be profitable, Lvovich said. Retailers have been able to reduce the number of salespeople, especially with lower inventory.
But another benefit of digitalization for all parties could be the window it opens to a customer’s wants and needs.
“The more insights you can gather and the better you can personalize their experience,” Girgis said, “the better product you can provide for them.”