The way people browse and buy cars has changed. In just a single generation, the rise of omnichannel – shopping across multiple sales channels and devices – and the development of mobile technology have created an increasingly fragmented and complex shopping journey that resembles more a complicated tube map than the traditional linear ‘funnel’ of moving from awareness to consideration to transaction. The automotive sector is no exception.
A recent report by eBay and Deloitte into The Omnichannel Opportunity found that almost two thirds (63%) of consumers surveyed in selected European markets use multiple shopping channels when spending over £100 (US$170) – a feat easily achieved when cars are involved. This means that OEMs need to be present at every ‘stop’ along the way in order to engage prospective customers however and wherever they are now shopping.
But this involves more than having an optimised homepage for the smaller screen; to be successful within this environment, car brands need to take advantage of the range of opportunities available online to inspire, inform and reassure consumers at every step in the purchase journey, and throughout the entire lifecycle of their car.
Using insights to inspire
Having a presence across multiple channels is half the battle won, but that alone won’t bring in the sales. Car brands need to be able to target the right consumers with the right messages at the right time to guide them towards, or indeed inspire, a purchase.
Fortunately, with the wealth of data insights available online, this has never been easier. By combining observed insights, such as search and purchase history, with demographics and real-time targeting, OEMs can now segment their audiences much more effectively and identify where consumers are in their shopping journey to create relevant and targeted campaigns based on facts rather than assumptions. For example, instead of immediately targeting young men with sports cars, behavioural insights might reveal that older women are a lucrative group of automotive enthusiasts.
Car brands can even spot external factors that may impact a motorist’s choice of vehicle. For example, if someone were to search for pushchairs and a new car simultaneously, a brand could infer there had been a change to their family status and use creative messaging to inspire the shopper with a ‘safe’ and ‘family-friendly’ car while they’re in a researching frame of mind.
Aligning messages across all channels
It’s important that car brands don’t think of their various sales channels in silos – in the eyes of the consumer, whether on or offline, it’s all shopping. If communications are inconsistent or disjointed, they risk confusing and ultimately losing customers along the way.
This means they need to take an integrated, almost channel agnostic, approach to campaigns, where messages are echoed across the board to ensure customers remain informed.
That doesn’t mean replacing in-store sales with online though. The Omnichannel Opportunity research found that increasing awareness of products through websites, apps and online marketplaces has a positive effect across all sales channels – not just online.
When BMW, for example, launched a Value Service page on eBay to promote its fixed-price servicing programme for selected BMW models, it used targeted advertising campaigns to not only drive customers to its page online, but to also increase footfall to its dealership network.
Going beyond the purchase
Contrary to popular belief, the purchase journey doesn’t end once a decision has been made. Studies show that thousands of shoppers continue researching an item even after they’ve made the purchase as they look for confirmation that they have made the right choice. And when the decision involves as high-ticket an item as a car, the doubts are likely to increase.
It is therefore vital that car brands continue developing their relationship with the consumer – online and on the forecourt – beyond the sale, offering messages of reassurance and support to encourage trust.
If nurtured well, and with the extended lifecycle of a car, the relationship can also help to build loyalty and lead to future opportunities to grow sales in parts, accessories and services after the initial purchase. By keeping a record of when a car was bought, consumers can then be targeted at key milestones with replacement tyres, serpentine belts or brake pads, for example. To maximise sales in the long run, it’s worth the investment.
There are many OEMs now harnessing their online presence effectively, but as technology evolves, so does the purchase journey. Car brands cannot afford to become complacent, and must continue to leverage their online capabilities to keep pace with the increasingly omnichannel consumer; fail to do so, and they risk watching their customers switch over to brands ready to accompany them throughout the entire purchase journey and beyond.