Consumer confidence in online shopping has grown exponentially over the last few years.
In 2016, £133 billion was spent online shopping in the UK, a 16% rise on 2015 and the IMRG and Capgemini are predicting further growth of 14% in online sales in 2017.
The merging of online and offline is occurring across more and more industries, as fewer people feel the need to physically view items before buying.
One industry we might not expect to see this is the automotive industry, where the need to touch and experience the product seems paramount.
It was once unimaginable to purchase a car without taking it for a test drive, but this is no longer the case, as figures from Hyundai show that the number of customers who opt to take a test drive is now only 53%.
The average car buyer used to visit three showrooms before buying; now that figure is down to one.
Consumer purchase habits have changed hugely in the past few years and it’s only right that the auto industry transforms to reflect this.
There are now a number of major car manufacturers offering ecommerce options together with traditional dealerships.
Hyundai, Peugeot and Smart have all recently launched ecommerce platforms, allowing consumers to manage the entire process of buying a car online.
Customers can choose the precise specifications they want including colour and engine size, part-exchange their old car, arrange finance, decide whether they want their new model delivered to a dealership or to their home, and then click "pay".
The process can take as little as half an hour and can even be done on the go on a mobile phone.
We recently worked with Peugeot on its Order Online ecommerce platform, to create a connected dealership.
The platform bridges the gap between the traditional showroom and the relaxed atmosphere of home online shopping.
Jaguar Land Rover also recently opened a showroom at Westfield in Stratford which allows customers to view the latest models, and then complete their purchase online.
Clearly the interaction with dealers in the shop is still in demand.
Whilst the introduction of this technology may affect the responsibilities of a traditional dealer, their critical role will not be replaced; it will just be fulfilled in different ways.
To ensure they stay ahead of the curve, franchised car dealerships need to think ahead, and consider how they can adopt ecommerce technologies and work alongside their manufacturers.
The store itself needs to meet, if not exceed, the best high-street experience.
The physical store must embrace digital technology (screens, tablets and simulators instead of cars on display) and use new formats like interactive pop up stores with virtual reality experiences.
Dealerships should take advantage of all data at their disposal to develop not just a proactive operational model, but a predictive one.
By working in partnership with supply chain partners, dealerships can adapt to the challenges and opportunities at hand, and prepare for a new future defined by technology.
Customers want the freedom and flexibility to move between numerous information sources and receive a similar brand experience across all channels.
It is about offering customers optimum choice, maintaining high standards at dealerships and providing the option of shopping online.
Those who embrace this technology and invest in the digital transformation that is required, stand to gain a competitive edge over others who tread carefully.
We have reached an exciting time for the automotive industry, as both dealers and consumers adapt to this novel way of purchasing vehicles.
Customer expectations are higher than ever and time is limited.
Customers are more likely to return to dealerships offering a compelling proposition of range, price and service, and a quick and uncomplicated purchase process.
By offering consumers something truly innovative, and by adapting and modernising their ecommerce platforms, brands can ensure they don’t lose out in the online race.
Author: Hedley Aylott (pictured), chief executive and co-founder, Summit, global online retail specialists