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5 minutes with… Alistair Horsburgh, chief executive, CitNOW

Alistair Horsburgh,  chief executive, CitNOW

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

The investment from Tenzing, the private equity firm, in March this year, was key for us. We are now up to six offices across Europe, with the latest for the Nordic and Baltic region. We are working with 1,200 Ford dealers across Europe, so they have leapfrogged other manufacturers over the past couple of years to be our biggest client. We work with 40 vehicle
manufacturers around the world. We will also be refreshing our branding and website before the end of March.


Where does that leave the UK if the company is looking to expand internationally?

The UK is still our home and it’s still very much a key focus to grow. We work with 3,292 dealers in the UK, covering about 90 of the AM100 dealer groups. We have a very robust programme in place to look after our UK customers. We have a team of product experts go into dealerships and help them with how they can use video.

Where does the UK sit internationally in terms of using video in motor retail?

If you asked a UK business about whether they would consider using video in their dealership, it would be in the high 90%. The US probably comes second at about 30% and then Europe is between 15-20%.


What’s the biggest growth area for the business in the UK?

Most dealer groups are looking at rich media for their website in terms of images and video and ‘time to web’ as a measurement. At the moment, they rely freelance photographers visiting showrooms at allotted times and it is slowing the process down to get product online.

With today’s smartphone technology, you can take extremely high-quality images without the need for a photographer. It means dealers can really speed up ‘time to web’.

In terms of products, we are looking at growing the use of 360-degree interior and exterior imaging.

Integrating with the big software giants is also always a major opportunity. We have integration with CDK Global, Auto Trader and Cox Automotive.


How has the use of video grown over the years in the UK?

Between launching in 2008 and 2016, we did 10 million videos. In 2017 alone, we did 7.7m. Aftersales represented two thirds of that content with the final third car sales. This year, we will break 10m. We are getting to a point where not only are customers accepting video in this environment, they are requesting it.


With that sort of growth, are competitors springing up to take market share?

There are some companies that offer video that are bolting it on, but it’s not the main thing they are focused on. We are really the only company in the UK solely focused on automotive video right now.
I think the reason we haven’t had a deluge of competitors is it’s quite tricky to offer a package that is watertight on GDPR and specifically formatted for the motor retail experience.


How can CitNOW help dealers to improve their business using data collected from these millions of videos?

Customers can leave feedback comments and rate videos out of five. This gives dealers important feedback on how they approach content.

The really exciting project we are working on right now is how we can use artificial intelligence (AI) to go through this video content to analyse and offer feedback. Was the customer’s name used? How quickly were they speaking? There is some really interesting stuff you can do with voice recognition and we are working with Manchester University on something to provide qualitative data back to dealerships.


Where do you see video tech going? Do you think virtual reality has a place?

I actually think the whole VR piece has been massively overplayed. I know some manufacturers have the technology available, but in terms of VR hitting the mainstream, I think it is very unlikely.

Live video has been really big in terms of social media, with people broadcasting from their smartphones, but I think we will have to see how that takes off in terms of automotive retail.

Personalised video requests could also be a big growth area. Customers could get in contact and ask two or three specific points they would like a video on and dealers can go out and deliver it.


What’s the biggest threat to the franchised dealer model?

Franchised dealers are going to be around for a long time. I know Alibaba and Ford in China have created an unmanned car vending machine, but in the UK? I just can’t see anything like that happening.

I think the model will probably change and that comes as a result of the ownership model changing, too. You start with PCP and you transition into rental and to subscriptions. If dealers use technology to stay relevant, they will still have a place in the market. Part of the challenge is making sure it is not a cold, disconnected future, but one where the personality of people behind the technology can still shine through.

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