The automotive industry is shifting to a new era of digitization for their customers.

When it comes to manufacturing, the auto industry has always been at the forefront of innovation. From advanced car safety features to infotainment to self-driving vehicles, tech is moving the industry forward and opens the path to innovation. The following years are expected to bring even more exciting advancements. The latest automotive shows have hinted at tech features that, so far, we’ve only seen in sci-fi movies: biometrics, personalized infotainment, lidars, integrated mobile payment systems, and even solar-powered vehicles. The car of the future is sleek, reliable, high-tech, and energy-efficient.

But if car manufacturers have historically been quick to embrace technology, its adoption in the customer purchasing journey has been slower compared to other industries. Even after e-commerce became mainstream, most manufacturers continued to sell their vehicles in physical dealerships, and people who wanted to buy them still had to follow the traditional customer journey.

However, this is now beginning to change. Pushed forward by the COVID-19 crisis and the astronomical growth of e-commerce in the past months, the automotive industry is shifting to a new era of digitization and creating new touchpoints for customers.

As more and more people are using the Internet to research automotive options, interact with dealers, and purchase a new car, sellers now have to rethink their strategies and offer them the option of viewing and ordering cars online.

How does the modern car buyer interact with the seller?

For many years, brand websites and dealer websites have offered different user experiences. For example, people would be able to book test drives and customize their vehicles on the car manufacturer’s website, on dealership websites, they could only browse the car models. However, that created a lot of confusion and called for a more unified shopping experience.

Customers’ expectations changed, especially amidst the COVID-19 crisis, when going to the dealership in person just to inquire about the options and schedule a test drive became unsafe and impractical. According to McKinsey research, car purchase intent didn’t drop as expected (on the contrary, in high-income households, it actually grew), but buyer behavior has. As a result, two-thirds of car buyers rely on digital funnels to research vehicle options and discuss with sellers. What’s more, many people seem to like the hybrid approach. For example, someone who wants to buy a new car can look up a Lincoln dealership Dallas, browse the options there, compare prices, schedule a meeting online, and then go to the dealership personally just for a test drive and pick up the car. This process saves time and money, not to mention it’s safer when you want to reduce personal contact as much as possible.

What expectations do customers have from digital processes?

There’s no reason why buying a car shouldn’t be as easy as buying anything else online. After all, e-commerce technology is the same. However, cars are major purchases that are meant to last for years. Apart from the fact that they’re more expensive, they need to be chosen based on the buyer’s lifestyle, so the buying process involves more than the traditional view product à add to cart à checkout.

According to a 2020 study, modern consumers have higher expectations of the touchpoints in the digital sphere. These are the highlights:

  • 73% of online consumers want to have some sort of direct path of communication with a dealership representative, whether that’s a live chat or a phone number. A new vehicle is a major purchase, and it’s normal for digital consumers to want the same personalized advice as in a brick-and-mortar dealership. Plus, nearly half of potential car buyers would like to have the option of a video chat with an agent.
  • 95% of digital consumers want fast and accurate booking features on the dealership’s website to determine vehicle availability and schedule test drives.
  • 95% of digital consumers are looking for pricing transparency: they want to see the total cost clearly displayed on the website, without hidden fees.
  • 63% of digital consumers want online payment options. This expectation is especially common for consumers who already know what vehicle they want when visiting an online dealership and are just browsing for the best prices. In this case, the option of paying online with a credit card can be a differentiating factor between sellers.

Like all other industries, the automotive sector was initially affected by the pandemic, but the disruption has taught online dealerships a valuable lesson, and now there is more room for innovation: sellers have learned that the traditional buying process can be too lengthy and complicated, and are now paying more attention to consumer demands. Creating new digital pathways was one of the biggest shifts in the selling process in the past decade, and that’s bound to have a profound impact on consumer purchasing patterns in the future.