Car buyers want better digital experience

Consumers want to see improvements in auto industry websites, while dealerships are yet to fully embrace digital technologies

Most consumers are doing online research to help them make car-buying decisions, and most are doing so before visiting a dealership, a new survey by Accenture reveals. The survey also shows that 75% of drivers polled would consider conducting the entire car-buying process online.

The survey of 10,000 consumers in eight major countries found that 80% of drivers seeking to purchase a new vehicle are using some form of digital technology to research their buying preferences, and nearly two-thirds (62%) are initiating the car-buying process online, including consulting social media channels, before entering a dealership.

Additionally, three-quarters (75%) of the survey respondents said that if given the opportunity, they would consider making their entire car-buying process online, including financing, price negotiation, back office paperwork and home delivery. Two-thirds (69%) said they have either bought a car online or would consider doing so. The findings also reveal that consumers would be open to using new, emerging online channels for purchases. For example, 63% of respondents said they would be interested in buying a new car through an online auction.

According to Accenture, the survey findings point to the growing need for automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and dealers to increase their focus on online engagement with consumers. More than half the drivers surveyed said they want the industry to improve online channels in order to make researching a new vehicle easier. Specifically, they are interested in getting more tailored information online, more virtual demonstrations and more sites that provide an opportunity for comparison shopping. This is consistent with Accenture B2C commerce research which shows that retailers now see an omni-channel customer experience as a brand differentiator.

With respect to dealer visits, more than half (53%) said they would be interested in access to an interactive touch display that provides information on the available models during a visit to a showroom, and 48% would like to be able to take a virtual test drive at the dealership.

‘The impact of the digital customer is becoming pervasive, disrupting the traditional car-buying experience and the competitive landscape,’ said Christina Raab, global managing director for Digital Consumer Services in Accenture’s Automotive practice. ‘This is clearly supported by the fact that many would consider conducting the entire car-buying process online. In order to grow business in this environment, OEMs and dealers will need to pursue an aggressive digital strategy online, in the showroom and in aftersales, while creating a seamless, integrated experience to accommodate all customer needs.’

The survey found that consumers believe the aftersales process and the availability of extra pricing options online are the weakest links in the digital car-buying experience, and about a fifth of the respondents believe these areas need to be improved. Accenture believes enhancing aftersales is particularly critical, since poor performance in this area can make or break brand loyalty. ‘Consumer interest in making car purchases fully online or through new mechanisms such as online auctions suggests that OEMs and dealers should consider exploring those options,’ Christina said. ‘They have the opportunity to develop a multi-channel presence to meet varied and additional demand, increasing profitability.’

Car-buying changing around the world

While the survey indicates that digital technology is increasingly influencing auto markets throughout the world, the results also show that there are marked differences by country in consumer preferences:
•    Chinese respondents had the strongest interest in buying a new car online, with 92% saying that they had done so or would consider it. By contrast, drivers in Japan expressed the lowest interest: 80% of Japanese respondents said they would not consider such a buying option.
•    Eighty-two per cent of the drivers surveyed in India and 83% of their counterparts in China are interested in online financing negotiation in the car-buying process.
•    U.S. drivers are particularly interested in comparison shopping sites, while Chinese respondents are most enthusiastic about having instant access to information about a car model.
•    Among all options presented, drivers in every country surveyed expressed the least interest in engaging in an online ‘chat’ with dealers.
•    When making a car-buying decision, drivers in India are most influenced by car websites and online automotive publications. In contrast, drivers in Japan are most likely to buy a vehicle without doing any online research, and more drivers in Italy are influenced by visiting a dealership than anything else.
•    In China, 90% of surveyed drivers would be interested in using online auctions for new-car buying. Drivers in Japan, France and Germany would have less interest, with 80, 65 and 55%, respectively, saying ‘no’ to this option.
•    When considering the weakest areas of the buying process related to the digital experience, German drivers view the pre-sales advice from online sales teams ineffective, while U.S. drivers feel the trade-in value of a current vehicle needs the most improvement. Overall, however, the respondents feel pre-sales online information needs the least attention.

‘Whether in China, Germany or the U.S., using online processes to a greater extent for car-buying is becoming the norm, not the exception. OEMs and dealers that want to succeed in the future will need to adjust their business models to take advantage of the emerging digital reality that is transforming car-buying,’ said Christina.