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Iâ€™ve spent my entire life involved, in some way or the other, in the motor industry — at oil companies, the Retail Motor Industry Association and recently, the world of online car sales. When ecommerce (and the subsequent deluge of new car platforms) started growing in popularity I was, like many motoring professionals and enthusiasts, both sceptical and very excited. I did realise early on though, that these platforms were great for the average consumer. It opened up a world of choice, a means of easy price-checking and a way of making really informed buying decisions with relative ease. For dealerships, it wasnâ€™t always the case.
For many, online car platforms are a grudge purchase. They realised that in increasingly competitive marketplace, they had to move online to reach their customers, but often found themselves at the mercy of the party that operated the platform.
A survey of 13 000 new vehicle drivers in 11 countries conducted by Accenture Research found that more than three quarters of respondents (80%) would like more customised digital content from dealerships. Not only that, 74% (again, the overwhelming majority) said that they desire â€œbetter integration between dealer sites and inventory search functionsâ€ and 83% said improved digital media (including images and video) would speed up the buying process.
â€œA consistent customer experience is vital to the online-offline sales process, an area in which the auto industry is notably lagging other sectors in the eyes of the consumer,â€ concludes Luca Mentuccia, the global MD of the Accenture Automotive Group. â€œAt a time when digital marketers are using algorithms to predict what online visitors want to know, automakers should be better able to shape content this is more user-centric.â€
Customisation and control, any dealership will tell you, is the one thing they are not provided with when signing on to traditional automotive platforms. There are basic text and photo options, but branding is not allowed. There are some drop-downs to pre-populated fields, perhaps, but they can be far from ideal. And perhaps worst of all, none of it is integrated with existing sales management, inventory management, stock control or customer service management tools that the dealership might have. (In fact, we often find that individual sales people may upload ads to move stock in their own departments, unmanaged, and thus leaving the dealer principal with very little control over the customerâ€™s experience.)
Usually, this process is very expensive â€“ dealerships are tied to contracts, fixed monthly fees and strict controls that sometimes leave them with a tool that is over — or underutilised. Moreover, these tools rarely, if ever, take the various tiers and functionality of the average automotive company into account.
A dealer principal has a very different interest in online trade (whether or not leads are followed up, for example, or whether stock levels should be adjusted for seasonality) than a salesperson who primarily wants to know if another branch has stock of an item he needs, and to market the vehicles he is responsible for selling.
An executive level sales director would of course want to access the information to gain a snapshot of inventory and activity on a national level, answering the question as to whether or not stock performs better in certain provinces or if some branches have too much stock on the floor.
An automotive sales platform should not take a dictatorial approach to the content and analytics they have to offer. The entire process, in my opinion, should be transparent, cooperative and easy. Everyone with a working knowledge of the industry can attest to the fact that there are natural ebbs and flows in terms of sales â€“ why canâ€™t contracts be scalable, adjusted in times of low or high demand?
Digital marketers have turned the retailers into finely-tuned, personalised marketing machines through analytics — why should a dealership rely on a third-party to supply them with the information when they often need to make management decisions in real time? And why canâ€™t the entire process be adjusted so as to allow different tiers in the management hierarchy — corporate, middle management, sales — access to different functionality according to their needs? Why canâ€™t dealerships ad their unique branding, promotions and videos to the site, even if they donâ€™t own it?
Itâ€™s time for dealerships to move out of the dark ages of online sales platforms and opt for an alternative that puts full control back into their own hands.
Image: free photos & art via Flickr.