The ‘linear’ car buying journey is over

Francois de Bodinat argues the current retail approach is not fit for purpose and won’t be around for much longer

While today’s connected customer is already receiving incredible shopping experiences from brands within the tech and fashion industries, most of the world’s largest automotive brands are still stuck facilitating the traditional, linear car shopping journey. This usually involves someone engaging with an advert, then exploring an OEM’s website, going for a test drive, and, finally, buying at a dealership.

Rapidly rising customer expectations, spurred by the pandemic’s effect on digital adoption, mean one thing’s for sure; this approach to car retail isn’t fit for purpose and won’t be around for much longer.

To address this shift, the automotive industry must break out of its prescriptive ‘sales funnel’ mindset, where awareness is mainly a matter of online or TV advertising, where consideration is most often the role of the OEM’s website, and where conversion is inexorably tied to the physical dealership.

Physical dealerships should shift away from a ‘hard-sell’ culture, and towards one that prioritises phenomenal customer experiences delivered by knowledgeable product experts

We must cater for all customer intents with every channel we have at our disposal, so that customers have the freedom to complete the next step of their shopping journey whenever and wherever they are, resulting in a better overall customer experience and fewer missed opportunities for OEMs and retailers.

Take Apple, for example. A consumer can have equally engaging product experiences whether they interact with its online touchpoints or head to the Apple store. A shopper can also be confident that, whether they wish to discover new Apple products, consider them, buy them, or access post-purchase support, they can do this online, in-person or a blend of both, safe in the knowledge that they won’t be penalised for choosing one touchpoint over another.

Apple has blurred the lines between its digital and physical experiences; essentially, it has designed its stores like its online experience and its online experience like its stores, empowering customers to access the touchpoint that is most relevant to them, however they would like.

So, if Apple can do it, what’s stopping automotive brands from facilitating the same seamless standard? Customers should be able to discover and explore a new vehicle in incredible true-to-life detail online, then purchase it, without having to set foot in a dealership. Importantly, this shouldn’t be confined to the OEM’s website alone; today’s technologies can already bring most of the car buying journey directly to where the customer is, on ubiquitous platforms such as Facebook and Amazon.

While today’s connected customer is already receiving incredible shopping experiences from brands within the tech and fashion industries, most of the world’s largest automotive brands are still stuck facilitating the traditional, linear car shopping journey

Similarly, physical dealerships should shift away from a ‘hard-sell’ culture, and towards one that prioritises phenomenal customer experiences delivered by knowledgeable product experts. In this sense, the dealership should no longer be a purely transactional environment, but an experiential one as well, where customers can be immersed in the car configuration process, or just explore a new vehicle for the first time, before perhaps pursuing their journey online.

It’s undeniable that this frictionless model requires a significant transformation of the current status quo, but, until it’s in place, the automotive industry will continue to underwhelm new customers who have already seen what’s possible elsewhere. Let’s give them the exciting, engaging and memorable journey they demand and deserve.


The Automotive World Comment column is open to automotive industry decision makers and influencers. If you would like to contribute a Comment article, please contact editorial@automotiveworld.com

Francois de Bodinat is Chief Product Officer at ZeroLight

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.

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