Automotive industry. Online car dealerships, or how the consumer journey is changing in the times of COVID-19

One of the characteristic phenomena illustrating today’s changes are the numerous “on-line automotive showrooms” launched. Most car manufacturers on the Polish market have already implemented their e-salon. Popular brands like Skoda, Opel, VW, Toyota and also premium such as Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and Lexus have introduced this format. The very fact that the category, based on direct experience, so strongly draws on e-commerce is interesting. The decision which car to choose was previously linked to physical contact – touching the materials used in the interior, taking a comfortable position behind the wheel, looking at the trunk or driving test. Plus obligatory conversations with salesman. Today, test drives are cancelled, and chat with salon employees is limited. Hence the idea of ​​on-line salons, which with a video interview with a salesman or individual car presentation, is replacing the direct contact.

However, it is worth looking at it more broadly – this is just one example of how the rules of the game have changed throughout the consumer journey, especially in the automotive category.

  • Already at the AWARENESS phase, the optimal mix of media changes – so far widely used outdoor, radio and press have a challenging task in building sufficient coverage due to limited traffic. Initiatives such as mass events, which until now have been an excellent tool to familiarize yourself with a given car model, are dropped out. We can assume that the focus will move even more to the internet and television in the coming months if a brand enters with more intense communication.
  • The “online car dealerships” quoted above are a response to the changed rules, including at CONSIDERATION phase. Although the foundation of this phase remains: the customer collects information by still using, e.g. search engine or on YouTube. It can be seen that thanks to “online car dealerships”, a classic website experiences a “revival”, because it can contribute even more to sales. Especially when traditional test drives are not possible and instead replaced by “virtual test drives”.
  • The rules in the DECIDE phase are also changing. The situation with COVID has paralyzed production and customers are now unlikely to order a tailor-made car, but can choose from ready-made and used cars. It is also not welcomed to conduct pro sales activities in the current context, although due to difficulties in demand, it is natural to tempt customers with “special offers”. Therefore, communication-wise, car manufactures need to find an acceptable way to sell, which is now a condition for the survival of dealers in the market, without risking the consumers’ ire.
  • The realities of the USE phase are also changing – when people limit their exits and do only the most essential matters, they want to be sure that they can appear in the car service without fear. This is a sure chance for authorized dealers who are more reliable when it comes to following security procedures. We are observing an increase in acceptance of the cost estimation based on a video from the mechanic. It is the innovation of after-sales services that is now a competitive advantage.