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How OEMs must rethink cookies' use in car buyers' online journeys, opinion

Dave Hendry, regional dales director, Fanplayr 

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic more and more automakers have turned to the online world to sell their cars.

A shift that started with BMW back in 2015 now includes other major OEMs, including Stellantis, Daimler and VW.

To succeed in online vehicle retail, companies need data to understand what their customers are looking for and how to best interact with them in real-time.

We have all heard the news that big browsers are axing third-party cookies which used to fuel personalisation for years.

Apple Safari and Firefox have already stopped supporting third-party cookies and Google Chrome, which currently accounts for 60% of browser visits, will do the same in 2022.

This means a very bumpy ride for OEMs who have just begun their online journeys.

Leveraging new technologies

The good news is that we have seen new tools and technologies, such as real-time customer segmentation, interaction, and personalisation, enter the market.

Driven by AI, they provide a smart level of interaction and an effective way to guide shoppers towards a purchase without the need to rely on third-party cookies and without being pesky.

With so many elements of car buying that customer can directly personalise themselves, OEMs can leverage technology to understand their preferences and online behaviour quickly and completely.

For instance, customers can customise the model they want, the colour and interior, or add extra specifications.

They can often pick how they will finance it or if they will trade in their current car, giving automotive manufacturers real insights into their buying habits, financial situation, and expectations.

Applying behavioural analytics

In segmentation solutions, AI-driven tracking monitors each customer’s activity in respect of these different elements whenever they visit an automaker’s website.

By deploying first-party cookies to store a visitor’s unique ID, automakers will not be affected by the third-party cookie ban or privacy restrictions.

This first-party cookie remembers each customer and their visit. As the visitor moves around the website, the technology registers what the customer is interested in and spots when their behaviour indicates they are close to buying, or when they are about to leave.

With in-the-moment insights, automakers can intervene with a timely notification or graphic, increasing the likelihood that a customer will book a test drive, visit a showroom, or complete the purchase there and then.

The data collected can also be used to personalise any follow-up marketing communication, such as emails, making them less easy to ignore.

Taking customers through the sales funnel

Despite the growing trend of seamless online shopping, we are still seeing customers who simply visit a manufacturer’s website to book a showroom visit.

Because of long payment commitments, the decision to purchase a car - and choosing which one - is not an easy one and requires a lot of time and considerations.

BMW had seen how almost all car-buyers were conducting online research, reducing the number of dealer visits from an average of 4 to 1.4 in less than two decades.

Many still value a test drive and want to inspect the car before making their final decision.

Either way, automakers need to use segmentation and behavioural tracking technology to personalise the experience and ensure the customer journey is travelling in the right direction towards a sale.

Companies can see from the metrics how this type of segmentation and interaction technology raises conversion rates, even if customers opt to buy offline.

This is because when customers visit dealerships or showrooms, the sales assistants are better informed about what they want and aware of any possible barriers to completion of the purchase.

The customers themselves also have a much clearer idea of what they are looking for, which saves time and increases efficiency.

The moment of truth

Our British automotive industry has reached yet another milestone in the evolution.

Innovation, new technologies, and ever-changing customer expectations will continue to drive change in years to come.

To remain competitive and offer personalised experiences in a world without third-party cookies, automakers certainly need to act now and adopt more advanced solutions.

AI-driven behavioural tracking and real-time segmentation will help car-buyers make the best online purchase that meets all their needs, helping automakers succeed on their digital journeys at the same time.

Author: Dave Hendry, regional dales director, Fanplayr 

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