Cars online 2017: What are consumers thinking?

Meeting the expectations of informed, “in charge” consumers means innovating throughout the complete customer lifecycle

The 2017 consumer wants control and convenience. For OEMs and dealers, that means reaching out to each one – with the right information, the right offerings and options, and the right features and functions – at specific moments of value.

Today’s consumers are remarkably well-informed, assertively independent, and highly opinionated about everything: about where to get information and how to use it; about the ways OEMs and dealers could better meet their needs; about what they value now and what they’ll want in the future. How can an OEM or dealer strengthen every customer relationship?

Look: Forget the sale pitch.

When looking for a car, today’s consumers want real information. And they’re getting it from industry experts, independent critics, and large networks of connected groups with common interests. OEMs and dealers have to stay in the loop by using their websites and social media sites to share the right information, to respond quickly and accurately to questions, and to reach out to interested (or even just curious) consumers.

Key takeaway: Use technology (such as virtual reality) to extend the consumer’s ability to “experience” the car—anytime, anyplace.

Buy: The appetite for online sales continues to grow.

Nearly half of today’s consumers say they would consider buying a car online. And why not, since that satisfies their desire for control and convenience? The upside is that online buyers are open to cross-selling and up-selling. Yet, most still visit a dealer to “see the car in real life”; when there, they expect help in understanding the car’s technology (such as driving assistance features), making car-to-car comparisons, and exploring different configurations.

Key takeaway: Integrate the virtual and brick-and-mortar worlds to give each buyer a preferred experience.

Own: Communication encourages loyalty.

But how much contact is too much (or too little)? Some car owners want a lot of communication from OEMs and/or dealers; some want none. The best way to know what a customer prefers is to ask. One good opportunity to do that is at the dealer’s, since consumers like authorized service outlets. Also, they want to go online to buy parts, accessories, and digital services.

 Key takeaway: The personal touch never goes out of style.

Repeat: New market entrants have taken—or are looking to take—market share.

For OEMs, the technology companies like Apple or Google will significantly disrupt sales when (and if) they enter the industry. For dealers, used-car resellers are already making a big dent in repeat business by using online platforms to bring together buyers and sellers. The challenge in these trends is age-old and complex: What can OEMs or dealers do to improve customer loyalty?

Key takeaway: Identify those 10% of car owners who could be encouraged to act as brand ambassadors.