Samir Sawalhi - JATO

Samir Sawalhi, VP Middle East, JATO

You’ve all heard the statement ‘people buy from people’ and anyone involved in the Automotive sector will have had this instilled in them from day one of their career.

This was profoundly true in a time where to buy a house, you’d have to visit a number of high street estate-agents, or to book your holiday you’d have no choice but to sit for hours in a local travel agent, flicking through brochures whilst watching Julie hack away at the computer giving you flight options on what looked like teletext holidays. ‘People’ at this time, smoothed out what couldn’t be achieved online or using technology, hence the phrase in question. But as we all know, things have changed, the human element is still very important and relationships are still key, but more so to some buyers than others.

Omnichannel retailing in the automotive industry is well and truly here, accelerated by Covid, evolving consumer behaviour and the shift by OEMs to agency agreements. And let’s be frank, the younger generation aren’t upset that they no longer need to spend hours in a showroom whilst a sales executive provides the options in what to many is an intimidating environment full of suits, jargon and sales processes designed to get a deposit, on the day.

Selling cars online isn’t really that new, 15 years ago early disruptors such as Autoquake in the UK proved the concept, sadly they were just ahead of their time. Car retailers and dealer groups have been selling cars online well before the likes of Cazoo and Carvana existed, they just didn’t shout about it as much. Why? I think retail groups and dealers considered the potential threat of end-to-end online car buying to their highly commission-based livelihood. This coupled with OEM’s forcing significant investment in retail facilities and franchised dealerships, simply kept their focus on traditional retail

So, with that context in mind, what are the key factors for success in ecommerce or omnichannel automotive retailing? Let’s first define success, no longer is simply generating lead a measure of success, it’s quite the opposite as any lead or enquiry could be seen as a failure of your online offering to provide the information and tools for a customer to complete their purchase. And this is where data and information are absolutely critical.

Ultimately the focus should be on conversion, so let’s take a look at the basics;

  1. Firstly, how easy is it for buyers to search your available stock? How easily can that stock be filtered by the buyer’s preferences whether that be lifestyle needs, budget, performance, brand, model, variant, size and so on. Your stock can only be refined based on these criteria if you have the data for every single vehicle. Sounds obvious, doesn’t it but you’d be surprised how many fall  at the first hurdle.
  2. Secondly, once a buyer has found a vehicle that suits their needs, have you provided all the information required to facilitate a purchase? If you haven’t included the key specification items, you’ll simply fail at this point, if you’re lucky a buyer will then enquire to find out. If not, within a few clicks they’ll be on a competitor’s platform, and you’ve lost the business. You can only do this with a robust, up to date, country specific vehicle specification solution.
  3. Beyond specification, what about service history, warranty information, and condition? To many buyers there’s a big difference between blanket statements such as ‘all cars come fully serviced’ and ‘this vehicle has been serviced as per the manufactures schedule by the named main dealer at the following dates and mileages and is next due a minor service at a specified date and mileage.
  4. Then, how does the car your buyer is browsing compare to their shortlist of alternatives, do you offer a facility to thoroughly compare, apples to apples, without leaving the purchase journey? If you don’t then ultimately you are encouraging them to move away from your website to another which does. Again, this is only possible with structured vehicle data in a format that allows for clear and easy comparison.
  5. Do you give buyers the confidence to support the data and information provided backed up with evidence, imagery and the relevant paperwork? Using the example of service history, if you provide pictures of the service book, with each stamp clearly displayed then you’ll help provide the confidence required by your buyer. It’s the same with specification, listing a panoramic roof alone isn’t enough. Support this with high quality photography, from inside the car, from above, with it open and closed.

So, remember, to increase conversion and best facilitate transactions, data is absolutely paramount. Without vehicle specification, features, technical information, and history data you’re simply making it harder for your customer to purchase, increasing your drop off and potentially wasting the significant marketing spend to get them to your platform rather than your competition. Now that people no longer always buy from people, it has never been more important to get this right.