Digitization of Car Buying Experience – what it means for auto dealers

Digital disruption refers to the set of ground-breaking changes that affect companies mainly in two dimensions. First as a result of the emergence of new digital technologies on the market and when they introduce these technologies into various divisions of their operation, such as production, organization or customer relations. The main purpose of this piece of content is to touch a little bit on the impact that technological advancement has on businesses within the automotive sector.

The automotive market is going through a profound technology-driven transformation and there are major implications especially for marketing professionals. As the focus continues to shift from ads to experience, where should marketers place their bets?

In the past, car brand allocating big budget on ads used to be the sign of an automotive company doing well. However, in today’s market, such exercises do not carry as much weight as they did few years ago. The currency for measuring how good or bad a dealer is performing has completely changed.

This calls for automotive brands and auto dealers to commit to implementing digital technologies and strategies that communicate effective marketing campaigns, spark the right customer emotions in order to influence and dictate their buying decisions. They need to ensure that their customer’s buying experience is worth talking about, interactive and a fun experience. We can boldly say that marketing campaigns are no longer about selling products or services anymore, that time has passed, and marketers need to understand this. The main purpose of marketing campaigns should be to sell or share experiences, get the conversation started and keep it going.

Before we look into some of the ways in which digital is transforming car buying experience here’s something to think about. Research shows that the major changes that the automotive industry has gone through over the past years was driven mainly by technology, innovation, creativity and media. This has brought about changes to how customers make buying decisions. It is said that 59% of car buyers now spend their time researching online before going to a dealer. A survey by Google states that 95% of motor buyers use the digital space to source information. This takes 65% of buyers only three weeks to do this exercise. The best thing to do as automotive dealer is to target customers while they still indecisive about the type of vehicle they want. The study further reveals that 6 out of 10 don’t really know the kind of vehicle they want to buy and open to different models and expert options. It is therefore crucial for auto dealers to make information about their offering easily accessible across various digital platforms. In this way, they’ll be able in a better position to capture the audience early in the journey before their competitors do.

Social media platforms are effective tools that can be used to provide customers with a clear view on the brand’s social engagement. These platforms paint a good picture of customer experience and satisfaction. They way brands portray themselves on these platforms is what will determine the next step of their journey. It is also strategic to post information that will be of use to your targeted customers for example fuel consumption, services for the car and information about the best insurance companies. The growth rate of vehicles sales and auto parts will decrease by 0.3% in 2020, (eMarketer).

Nonetheless, the fact that customers are doing their research online does not mean that they won’t go to dealerships. People still see the need for retail experience, this is that one element that digital hasn’t taken over, physical interaction, the human aspect of buying and selling. So, looking at how technology has become part of our everyday lives, here are ways in which digital is transforming the car buying experience.

How Consumers Research Cars

10 years ago, customer would visit a couple of dealerships and speak to sales representatives before making the move to buy a vehicle. It is interesting to learn that in the modern world; customers go to their smartphones and tablets to research a new vehicle. Other research indicates that normal research time for a new car purchase can extend over a period of a month. During that time, customers go to their gadgets to answer questions that address their needs. We have learnt over the years that consumers no longer accept standardized product offering but want products that fulfil their individual needs. Be it which vehicle brand is the most secure and affordable, which will fit a family of four, what the monthly instalment will be, or which vehicle has built-in GOP and Bluetooth connection. So, the way brands react to these necessities affects and influences customers decision.

Technology is changing the customer experience

Technology has changed and continues to transform customers experience in many ways. Just to name a few; Video Marketing and Virtual Reality (VR).

Video Marketing: This approach makes vehicle buyer’s research process a lot simpler while creating an experience that is substantially more applicable and customized to customized. From virtual test drives, 360-degree view on the interior, or exterior walk arounds. Research shows that about 56% of vehicle buyers said they could be persuaded to purchase a vehicle from a 360-degree video without even going for a test drive. An ideal case of this is BMW’s video campaign called “#BMWSTORIES”. The thought behind this campaign was to highlight their customer’s personal stories, and how the BMW brand helped them in through their emotional, real-life journeys.

Virtual Reality (VR): With the release of virtual and augmented reality, VR is already making waves across industries globally. It is safe to say that the automotive industry is one step ahead. Car manufacturers are trying to use both virtual and augmented reality technology to deliver the best vehicle experiences to their consumers. Using VR technology and specialized apps, almost every showroom in any dealership can become a virtual reality showroom. Brands like Audi and BMW have already jumped on this phenomenon. Vroom has even created a virtual reality showroom to display their available assortment that allows customer to view cars from the comfort of their home.

It is clear that the majority future purchasing generation will visit stores that offer interactive experiences using AR and VR technologies. For dealers, investing in VR technology is something to consider. With a VR demo station, dealers can offer customers immersive test-drives which can enhance the customer experience but also help sell more cars to existing customers and drive more referrals.

Digital Advertising is on the Rise

When it comes to marketing, automotive competitors are using digital as the priority channel in their marketing campaigns. Using integrated marketing tools which are backed by, this gives dealers the ability to attract and convert more customers.

Two compelling models include:

Social media platforms – It’s necessary to understand platforms that customers use to explore potential vehicles. Social media is an important tool for any business. For the car business, it presents an opportunity to target specific buyer’s depending on their research habits. Platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and YouTube allow brands to be more innovative with their campaign.

Stay Integrated and Get Specific – Integration is vital when it comes to digital. The most successful and engaging automotive campaigns succeed because they’re more than just social media campaigns.


With digital now more of a necessity than a choice, automotive brands and auto dealers must focus on integrating digital technologies and strategies into their business operations. The way to advancing digital transformation is to have teams that understand the fundamentals of digital so they can design and execute effective marketing. In this way they will be able to influence customers through effective social selling procedures. Ultimately, the main objective of digital techniques ought to be to ensure that the buyer journey is engaging and enjoyable.

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