#1 ‘Add to basket’ the next new website feature?
The possibility to ‘click to buy’ a new car online is seen as one of the more absurd fantasies of the dot-com boom which evaporated as cold reality took hold. But now in Europe both Citroën and BMW have implemented the facility to buy their cars online. In France Citroën has launched its ‘Carstore’ site where buyers can select, equip and make a down payment on a vehicle, and choose the dealership from where they will collect it. In the UK around 140 dealers have signed up to the BMW ‘E-tailer’ solution which combines configurator functionality, live chat with a ‘genius’ advisor, a trade-in evaluator, and a finance application module.
Sceptics argue that car purchase is one of the few areas of retail which will never move wholly online. The objections are the size of the purchase, the need to physically experience and, ideally, test drive the vehicle, and the negotiation and haggling over both the final price and the value of any trade-in.
Yet when asked, consumers continue to express support for the idea with 35% of respondents in the latest Capgemini survey saying they would be predisposed to purchase their car online. Many, perhaps over a third of buyers, now forgo a test drive. In addition popular ways of acquiring a car, such as Personal Contract Purchase, define from the start a guaranteed minimum future value so reducing the element of haggling at the end of the ownership period.
The results of these two innovatory schemes by quite different car companies will be interesting, and will determine the decisions of other brands to follow this path. During the UK pilot of the BMW system by nine dealers, 50 cars were sold. Not a huge number, but there again, hardly trivial?
#2 Searching for a YouTube strategy
The social media data in the first part of this review delivers one particularly staggering realisation: the audience engaging with car brands via YouTube greatly exceeds that reached via the brands’ own websites or other digital channels. On average the ratio of YouTube brand channel traffic to website traffic is close to two-to-one; in some cases the ratio is much higher. But currently there is little linear connection between YouTube ‘success’ and improved engagement on other platforms, or more importantly, in vehicle sales.
Much of what is posted on YouTube is lightly repurposed TV advertising in which little thought has been given to how content needs to work differently in this context. Many car brands’ channels retain a touching incoherence — a hotchpotch of ‘stuff’ that does little to drive further engagement or invite exploration of the brand or its products. Thought needs to be given to placing YouTube activity front and centre of digital strategy in the year ahead.
#3 Fixing mobile (again, finally!)
This is hardly a new entry on our list: how effective car brands’ websites are in reaching consumers using different devices is something we have returned to several times in recent years. Our latest audit of car brand sites — published during the summer — showed that progress is even more urgent as those accessing sites via a ‘conventional’ PC become the minority. The audit of 21 brands’ sites (who between them account for more than 90% of all new car sales) found many continue to deliver second rate content to users of ‘non-standard’ platforms. There seems to be disjointed thinking at play — functionality that is seen as key in the desktop experience appears to be treated as suddenly irrelevant when the same person visits on a mobile or tablet.
Many brands are still stuck in this PC-centric mindset, and as a result their sites are not ‘fit for purpose’ in critical areas – most notably in allowing a consumer to simply configure their vehicle choice, speedily access a readable brochure, or quickly initiate a request to a dealer regardless of what device they are using. Our conclusion remains that there is still much to be done to meet these challenges, but that those brands who succeed will continue to enjoy a considerable competitive advantage.
By Paul Rutishauser, Chief Editor of Automotive Market Intelligence (AMI)
Paul has nearly thirty-five years experience in journalism, print and web publishing. For the last 20 years he has worked in the transportation and automotive sectors. He is the co-founder of motorfolio Ltd which provides vehicle comparison solutions and automotive photographic libraries for use by consumer publishers and on-line portals. Paul qualified as a Fine Art Painter at Brighton College of Art and Design.