Puls Market Research (puls Marktforschung GmbH) is a leading provider of data collection and market analysis in the automotive industry. With regular studies, they capture trends, long-term developments and buying behaviour, as well as the market situation and state of the international automotive industry.
EASI’R has spoken with Dr. Konrad Weßner, Managing Director and owner of puls Marktforschung GmbH, about their recently published puls study “Car and Car Purchase of the Future” and has asked with which strategies car dealerships can successfully position themselves in the digital age.
EASI’R: Today, the majority of customers starts researching for a new car on the internet, and the majority of customers contacts at least two car dealerships at the same time. Which aspects are of particular importance for car dealers in order to guide customers from the online journey to the dealership successfully?
Dr. Weßner: On the one hand, car dealers need to be able to pick up customers online based on their individual needs, e. g., supported by offering an online need analysis. In addition, car dealers have to position themselves prominently on the internet and offer easy-accessible touch points, e. g., making it possible that customers can book test drives online with one click. The specific services and advantages of a certain dealership need to be presented already online, e. g. via dealership videos. Dealers really need to convey that it makes a difference for the customer which dealer they choose.
On the other hand, it’s as important that the car dealer also demonstrates his capabilities in customer interaction online and shows that the customer is really the center of attention.
First priority is the rapid response to customer inquiries from the internet, second priority should be the personalization of the communication. Customers should never get the impression that they are fobbed off with a standardized answer. Moreover, their questions should be answered individually on all channels, from emails to social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram.
EASI’R: The future of physical car dealerships in a digital age is controversial. However, the current puls study on “Car and Car Purchase of the Future” finds that an increasing number of customers considers stationary car dealerships as being indispensable (in 2015 the share was 31%, in 2017 62%). How do you explain this uptrend?
Dr. Weßner: During the last years, cars have become increasingly complex and customers need more explanations than earlier, as there are constantly innovations and new equipment coming on the market that customers are not familiar with. This starts with entertainment systems and route planning apps and continues with questions about the range of electric cars, new driver assistance systems, lane keeping systems, or cars with autonomous driving at level 3. This type of knowledge is nothing that people would just acquire on the internet. Moreover, people want to try out these innovations in real life and they want explanations.
In fact, the major innovative leaps still lie ahead of us, e. g., the electric vehicle offensive and self-driving cars. Therefore, I expect that the customer’s approval on the indispensability of physical car dealerships will even continue to increase in the coming years.
Cars today are so complex that customers can hardly acquire all needed knowledge alone by an online research. Skilled car salespeople will remain the major contacts, as they can then configure the vehicle according to the customer’s wishes and give the needed explanations.
EASI’R: How serious is the attempt of some online providers to sell cars directly via the internet against this background?
Dr. Weßner: I cannot imagine that this will become prevalent. If at all, this model can only function as a niche, for customers who already know exactly what they want and also only for cars that are offered in a maximum of two to three equipment variants. Such an online business model can hardly be profitable, because only fully standardized vehicles could be offered. In a BMW 5 Series for example, this would only correspond to about 40% of a maximum equipped vehicle and you don’t earn much this way. The trend in car buying behaviour rather goes into the direction of active consultative advice on individualization and the possibilities for this are becoming bigger and bigger. A car salesperson knows everything about the different variants, can then configure the vehicle exactly according to the customer’s wishes and he can also sell accessories and extras such as a massage seat or LED headlights on top.
EASI’R: The puls group has just published a new study on social media and automotive retail. How important are social media channels such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, LinkedIn or Xing as part of the online strategy for car dealers and manufacturers today?
Dr. Weßner: Recent studies clearly show that the younger target group under the age of 30 can hardly be reached via traditional advertising formats. This also applies to the automotive industry. Especially when it comes to such a long-lived good like a car, customers have the urge to virtually secure themselves once again in an authentic way and not solely rely on the advice of a car salesperson. Therefore, some car brands and car dealers have started to work together with (local) influencers, who are not as expensive and outworn as the big social media stars, but are able to reach the local buyers. It is important that car dealers understand the social media channels as lead sources as well and answer inquiries sent via social networks quickly and personally.
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