Kicking tires vs. clicking tires: Auto retailing goes digital

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The automotive industry needs to develop new retail models, as well as update a distribution channel that has not changed much in the last 100 years, professional services firm Deloitte declared in a study published in 2016. Titled the “The foundation of automotive retail: Omni-channel customer engagement,” the paper asserted the automotive ecosystem is being impacted by changing competition, advances in digitalization and connectivity, and increasingly empowered consumers. Clearly, the nearly four-year-old findings have not lost their relevance — especially at present.

Citing trends in other industries as its basis, Deloitte said at the time it foresees carmakers moving towards omni-channel retailing where customers will “experience seamlessly integrated shopping, buying, and owning processes regardless of the channel in which they interact.” In an earlier study, titled “Digital Divide,” Deloitte also found cars are the third most digitally influenced purchase, coming in only after electronics and home furnishings.

Despite this, the development does not spell the end of brick-and-mortar stores — the report stated a truly omni-channel approach that fuses the offline and online experience is key to success for retailers. It also noted automotive companies can learn from industries that have already adopted omni-channel retailing so that they could continue to stay relevant in the digital age. 

Innovative carmakers like Audi recognizes this shift, with the company saying that customers in the digital era do demand seamless, individual care at all times and via all sales and communication channels. And the brand has started moving toward this direction through some programs — like the Audi Retail Experience (already in place in select markets). For Audi, the move is a win-win situation offering maximum convenience for customers and attractive business potential for Audi and its sales network.

Audi dealerships are increasingly becoming places where customers can discover all technological and emotional aspects of the Audi brand individually. The dealer is the central touchpoint with the customer in the physical world and the venue that provides comprehensive information, as well as an exciting product and brand experience. It’s this same service standard and brand identity that are offered to Audi customers across all markets and platforms.

Audi is training its sales partners to act as hubs for digitally based mobility services. Although traditional customers still want to see the car and take it for a test-drive before buying it, Audi recognizes the Internet is becoming increasingly more important as a sales channel. This mirrors the Deloitte report finding, which called the digital ecosystem as an “important information source and purchase influencer.”

The report noted “kicking tires may have been replaced by clicking tires” — in some markets, at least — and that customers resorting to digital means are “generally more likely to make a purchase, not less.”

Automotive retailing goes digital.

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