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5 minutes with… Tony Patterson, director of automotive, Summit

Tony Patterson

What have been the big milestones for you in the past 12 months?

We have been working in the retail sector for the past 17 years with well known, high street companies such as Argos, but we have started to work with several car manufacturers now, launching first with PSA Peugeot Citroen about 18 months ago. This was for its Order Online e-commerce platform, to create a connected dealership. It is possible for a customer to go through the whole process and order their car in less than 30 minutes.


How open-minded is the automotive industry when it comes to using e-commerce?

The automotive industry is being much more open- minded about e-commerce and new ideas. Every major manufacturer has a digital initiative in play, it’s just a matter of how far along they are with it.

Tesla’s arrival to the market marked a real turning point. How can a company that makes several thousand cars have a higher market capitalisation than a manufacturer that makes millions? I think that really shook things up. There has been a noticeable shift in conversations I have been having with people that may have 20 years of experience in that automotive space.


Who do you see as a competitor in the market?

It’s a really interesting time. I don’t think there’s really a defined market for offering e-commerce solutions for motor retail. From the conversations we have been having, the manufacturers want to create their own platforms, but they are having to do it across 20 different market regions internationally and it is highly complex. What we are offering is a solution where 80% of what a manufacturer needs is there. Then you can go in and use the manufacturer’s intellectual property and the style of how they want to do things to customise. I don’t think anyone else seems to be offering that.


What is the biggest challenge facing the industry when it comes to online sales?

I think some manufacturers are struggling to get to grips with it because they view it in terms of this massive technology project. There’s this question hanging over the industry of ‘how many cars are going to be sold online remotely with no face-to-face interaction?’ I think a small number of customers are going to complete end-to-end transactions online, but I don’t think we will ever get to the point, particularly with a product like a car, where all customers transact that way.

Some customers will naturally go to the dealer and some will naturally go to the manufacturer to buy. I think there is that fear or knee-jerk reaction that direct sales will result in sales being taken away from the dealership, but online will play a bigger part in their journey overall, most people are going to visit showrooms.


What would you say to dealers who feel threatened by the idea of manufacturers launching direct sales platforms?

Dealers are a key stakeholder in this. Every manufacturer we have worked with has involved the dealer network in what they are planning and they are all interlinked. They are all looking at it from a dealer-centric approach and this doesn’t mean dealers are cut out of this process. One national sales company (NSC) we are working with has developed the platform in cooperation with its dealer council.

Manufacturers have to be clear about what’s happening and how this is going to help the dealer network. In essence, it is about offering the most qualified leads through to the business.


What’s the biggest mistake dealers or manufacturers make when looking at launching an e-commerce platform?

The question isn’t as simple as, ‘can you build us an e-commerce website?’ This has to be a technology platform that works at all levels of the customer journey, from being at the showroom, on mobile, from a call or on a website. It has to permeate all stages of that process. It has to be integral and the business has to be transformed around it. You can’t view this as a monolithic piece of tech. It has to be iterative and flexible, too.


What is the biggest challenge facing your business?

I think for some businesses it’s inertia. We’ve seen it take anywhere between six months and a year for a decision to be made. There’s also a challenge in that if a system isn’t being used by a lot of people, it can be difficult to build data and measure what is and what isn’t working.


What are the next big developments for the business?

It’s difficult, as we cannot talk about things that are happening that haven’t gone live yet, so it’s slightly too early for us to talk about what we have coming up, although there will be new launches on the horizon. We have just opened our Warwick office to help with our client base in the Midlands, so that’s in addition to our office in Soho in London. We’ve got about 180 staff in total at Summit and just under half of that are dedicated to automotive. We also have a tech centre in Prague. We’ll continue to scale up as we grow.

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