Car shopping in the future – click and collect?

Businesses must invest and allow customers to take the final step and buy online

Markus Leithe, managing director of international markets for Infiniti in the Middle East, Asia and Eastern Europe.

With infections reaching over seven million people worldwide, governments enforcing social distancing and many continuing to restrict public movement, Covid-19 has forced businesses to act fast.

On the supply side, the pandemic is already having far reaching implications on trade and in particular, on supply chains. On the demand side the figures are bleak. ‘The Great Isolation’, according to the IMF, will deliver an economic blow not seen since the 1930s.

Little surprise, then, that the automotive industry is being singled out as one the most challenged by Covid-19. Moody’s Investor Services predicts that global automotive sales will slump by 2.5 percent. According to McKinsey & Co, the response to this challenge must focus on three key areas: workforce, operations and supply chains, and sales strategy and planning.

However, I see not just a challenge, but real opportunity, but let me focus on the last point.

Right now, every business is having to find new ways to attract and transact with customers. In a world growing very used to buying online, for many this is an acceleration of a well-established trend. When did you last buy a ticket at a travel agent, bank at a branch, or pick-up a take-away in person? When it comes to everyday shopping, our habits have been transformed by e-commerce.

However, until now, when it comes to our larger and most considered purchases, we’re not quite ready to simply fill our virtual carts and checkout. With that in mind, purchasing decisions don’t get much bigger or given such dedicated consideration than your next car, but as the lockdown continues, might we be about to see a shift in consumer’s willingness to click and collect?

I believe so.

Automotive brands – if they are brave enough and fast enough – have the opportunity to move beyond digital marketing and become true digital retailers. Using tools such as AI driven chat-bots, virtual reality and high-quality on-line content, there is no reason why an on-line car-buying experience should be inferior to a bricks and mortar dealership.

In fact, in many ways, virtual car buying should be the preferred option. We already know that when it comes to research, car-buyers will spend hours online before ever visiting a showroom. Every make and model is available to view, in every color, to every specification. For the undecided, competitor information is just a click-away, as are finance and leasing options.

The showroom is conveniently located wherever you happen to be and – let’s be honest – the coffee is probably better too.

The question for businesses like mine is whether we are willing to invest and allow our customers to take the final step and buy online? I believe if we do, consumer behavior may change even more quickly than we may think possible.

Good businesses need both a radar and a compass. They must be quick to recognise the near-term threat, whilst charting a longer course. An investment in digital infrastructure for automotive brands is both a necessary response to the challenge of the short term, but also recognition that the time is ‘now’ when it comes to evolving the car industry’s digital toolkit.

While we work towards realising the showroom of the future, we must remember the things that never go out of fashion with consumers: the promise of great value and the empowerment to have it on their own terms.

Markus Leithe, managing director of international markets for Infiniti in the Middle East, Asia and Eastern Europe 

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