Auto, UX Design, UX Strategy

Automotive Dealerships: The User Experience

The way in which customers are buying vehicles is changing, with consumers now, more than ever, moving away from the traditional dealership model. All the way back in 2015 an accenture survey found that 75% of drivers polled would consider conducting the entire car-buying process online. You only need to look at the astronomic growth of heycar, cinch etc.. to see that the industry is heading in that direction. 

A big reason for this change is that people do not like the existing / old fashioned dealership model. A recent DrivingSales survey found that “99 of 100 automotive shoppers begin their purchase journey expecting it to be a “hassle” driven in large part by their experience, and that of friends/family, with retailers seeking to control the buying process to the retailer’s objectives.” This consumer viewpoint has likely always been the case, but the main difference now is that there are plenty of new online alternatives that put customer needs first and provide a more enjoyable end to end process.

Online Stores

The pandemic has shown customers across all industries the convenience of buying goods online, and automotive purchases are no exception. With the shift towards online purchases, OEM’s and traditional retailers have had to focus considerably more on their online presence. Previously this was seen as a way of gaining a competitive advantage in the automotive industry, whereas now it is an absolute necessity to remain competitive.

As with other industries, consumers have become accustomed to very straightforward and intuitive buying journeys and this needs to be reflected when buying vehicles, otherwise buyers will simply go elsewhere. Online tools to help make this process easier and more engaging such as: virtual test drives, simple, yet in-depth car configurators, online showrooms, and virtual store assistants. One of the main advantages of buying online is that the process is completely on the buyer’s terms, there is no need to have to deal with a pushy salesperson as may be the case with going to a dealership in person.

‘Store’ rather than ‘Dealership’

Whilst there has been an undoubted shift towards more online purchases, that’s not to say that a physical dealership no longer has a role to play in the buying process. While a number of Automotive brands do still use the traditional dealership model as they feel some customers very much enjoy the process of buying a new car, others have moved away from the model and set up what they call ‘stores’ or ‘experience centres’ instead. The move towards stores rather than dealerships provides a number of benefits. 

Stores are often smaller in size with just a handful of cars, rather than a parking lot full. This means they can be located in significantly higher footfall areas like shopping centres, and city centres instead of grey industrial estates. 

  • The improved location means that visits no longer need to be treated as a standalone event where there is an expectation of a vehicle purchase at the end. Instead, it allows customer visits to fit in more with their everyday lives, it’s simply an opportunity to soak up the brand and explore some interesting features about the vehicles / company. 
  • There is significantly reduced pressure to purchase a vehicle there and then, instead the customer can take in as little or as much info as they need and go home and make the purchase on their own terms. 

Tesla was the first brand to approach the buying experience in this way. Now a number of more traditional brands have followed suit. E.g. Toyota, Polestar, Seat, Ford.

Looking at all the options, it seems the solution is a perfect omnic-hannel experience where the customer has complete visibility of their purchase journey and support if needed, but without pushy sales people.

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