Author: Chris Green (pictured), sales and media director, Motoring.co.uk
"Our dependency on the internet for buying goods and services, accessing news and communicating with friends and family via social media, is increasingly growing. As a nation, we spend an average of eight hours and 41 minutes a day on media devices - more than we do sleeping.
Shopping online is growing at a rapid pace. Earlier this year, the etailing trade association IMRG forecast growth of 17% for 2014 and estimated £107 billion will be spent online over the year. The association also estimates that 21% of retail sales now take place online.
What is clearly emerging from this increased web usage, is a new ‘instant generation’ who ‘want it now’ - and 24/7.
These consumers have high expectations for instant response, information and feedback.
When they carry out shopping online at Amazon or Tesco, they are immediately given access to a huge number of products, at the touch of a button, round the clock.
When they make a purchase, it is instantly processed and they are given a choice of delivery dates to suit them.
This instant generation expects these same levels of service and response from dealers and manufacturers and why shouldn’t they? So the big question is how can the industry respond to these changing consumer needs and wants?
This instant generation will soon become an AO generation and no, that doesn't stand for Appliances Online, even though there is much the automotive industry can learn from that business and its digital approach. AO stands for ' Always On', which simply means consumers will never be offline and will always be connected in some way via cars, watches etc.
A key challenge and a good starting point is for dealers to provide a quick and efficient response to enquiries at the peak time when consumers are surfing the net – between 6pm and 10pm weekday evenings and weekends.
It is at these times consumers want to speak to someone who can help them make informed decisions around simply buying a product, or booking services that dealers provide. We all know that you can book a service online, but what about the other questions consumers need answering, before they actually book or buy?
One interesting pilot I recently came across is a North East car dealer, Lookers Volkswagen Teesside that is spearheading an ‘open-all-hours’ approach, by opening a new late-night car servicing facility.
The dealership in Middlesbrough is keeping its workshop open until 2am from Monday to Thursday, so it is much easier for customers to book in repairs, or routine maintenance when it suits them, and it also allows them to find out information outside of normal working hours too.
Another key challenge for dealers is response times to telephone, email or web enquiries.
Our recent research on the leads we provide to Renault UK, reveals that 29% of consumers who were contacted the same day as they made their enquiry, actually went on to purchase a vehicle - a massive conversion, whilst 57% made a purchase, having been contacted within 48 hours.
When consumers were contacted up to a week after their original enquiry was made, just 14% purchased a vehicle. After one week, no consumers went on to make a purchase at all, or had bought from a competitor.
Our stats also show that one in five consumers who requested a test drive, or a brochure from a dealer, received no response.
The age group most intolerant of slow response times were 18-24 year olds, with 20% saying they would test drive another make and model if they did not get a request for a test drive answered within 48 hours.
Older buyers were more tolerant, but their attitudes are also changing.
It is clear that the more responsive dealers are to contacting consumers that want a test drive or a brochure, the more likely they are to drive footfall and ultimately sales. Dealers need to recognise that internet enquiries are as good as showroom enquiries and as we have proven, they are even better, because they are ready to buy.
There is much that the industry can learn from the ‘best in class’ digital retailers. The bottom line is that if dealers and manufacturers fail to change the way they respond to this instant generation, they will lose sales and greatly inhibit aftersales revenue.
I will leave with you one thought for the future. Isn’t it time that car manufacturers and their dealers kept in touch with the owners of their brands, through the whole car owning lifecycle, because that's what the best e-commerce businesses do on a daily basis? This will simply breed much needed loyalty and retention for the future, whilst creating a better customer experience."