The challenge for the future is clear. Increasing expectations by customers, an expensive legacy retail infrastructure and the conflicting ambitions of stakeholders in the distribution process. Not easy.
My starting point is the customer. That’s you and me. Let’s be clear about what we want from a car and how we are best served in car retailing to get it. Strip it down to basics and most of us just want safe, comfortable, reliable transport which also says something positive about us to the world as we drive.
Do you know anyone who enjoys the ‘sales journey’ of today’s car retailing with the medieval horse-trading of part exchange and the challenge of negotiating specifications, finance and warranties? Let’s start again from what the customer actually wants, not simply freshen up the sales order taking process. The customer experience should be easy and welcoming, seamless on and offline the same as it is elsewhere in our daily lives.
Holidays used to be bought from travel agents (now 80% are online ), car insurance was sold almost exclusively in high street brokers (now around 50% is sold online via aggregators), food shopping was carried out in supermarkets and before Right Move and Zoopla came along estate agents used to keep the local photographer and printers busy producing property details and posting them out to customers.
Throughout this retail revolution, the process of car retailing remained largely unchanged, albeit with some great examples of online prospecting and interaction.
Remember that in the UK, the BCG survey into the use of the internet in retailing shows that this country is at the leading edge of online retail in the G20 (and by some margin). The same innovation that customers enjoy in the supermarket, bank and estate agent should be in the showroom. The internet lets us shop when we want and with the added opportunities through the advances in mobile we should be able to have it wherever we want it, too.
I believe a new business model can emerge, based on the leasing concept, making it simple and easy for the customer. Think about an ’all-in’ monthly figure which includes use of your chosen vehicle, servicing, depreciation, recovery and insurance, and hey – maybe even fuel. Some will say that it’s here today, but it’s hardly front and centre anywhere is it? We should be able to click, watch, deal, turn up, swap over the keys and pay monthly. Sounds familiar if you’re a mobile phone customer.
The people who created webuyanycar.com broke the chains between new car purchase and trade-in, giving freedom to purchase the next vehicle as a cash buyer. Who’s going to step forward with We’ll-buy-your-car-for-you.com where someone does everything for you from specification, finance, trade-in, insurance, delivers to your door and manages the servicing and breakdown?
It could be a brand, dealership, finance company or new entrant entirely. The relationship between brand, dealer and customer will then be customer driven, as it is in other sectors as the internet powers the relentless drive forward and new models of business emerge.
The motor industry is working away to find solutions. On 6th June in London I’m chairing an event looking at the future for automotive retail. The organisers Auto-Retail have brought together speakers from ASE, AutoTorq, Frost & Sullivan, MSXi, Urban Science and Vodafone to engage with senior industry leaders from brands and retailers in a day of debate at the SMMT .
I’m really excited about the future in the motor industry because change is coming. Whether it is innovation in customer service by dealer groups, cars which can predict and manage servicing, intelligent use of technology to provide outstanding experiences for customers, better integration of sales and service teams, new ways of financing consumer transport or re-thinking the concept of the showroom, it’s all going to get better, faster and more customer driven.
Steve Jobs the founder of Apple said ‘You’ve got to start with the customer experience and work backwards for the technology’ and he was right.
My challenge to the industry is for anyone planning the next steps to go through the process of buying, servicing and selling a car with their own money to understand the real customer experience. That’s not a cheap dig, it’s a genuine provocation that can help to shape the future of automotive retailing.
And so it comes back to where we started and where the focus has to be. The customer.
If you have questions you’d like raised at the event, feel free to get in touch or tweet me @alclarkeltd and I’ll try to share the feedback during and after the event.
About Al Clarke – I am a marketing and communications specialist who has worked in the motor industry at board level since 1997. I have held senior positions in global brands such as Ferrari and the BBC including a decade working as a journalist.
I am a member of the Institute of Directors, the Public Relations Consultants Association, an expert member of the digital community Smart Insights and Life President of the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association.
I speak regularly in the field of marketing communications to businesses and the media with particular reference to digital media. Find me on Twitter @alclarkeltd and LinkedIn.