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Automotive manufacturers’ move to online retail requires smart retooling

The shift to internet retail by vehicle manufacturers is a major development
that places new demands on their ability to convert website visits into
sales.

The trend for manufacturers to sell cars to the public online started with
BMW back in 2015 but accelerated through the pandemic. PSA and Daimler
entered the fray last year, for example, along with VW for the ID.3.

This move to online retail requires a new ability to understand customers
and their preferences and react in real time with maximum effect when they
are on a website. This a capability that currently eludes many
manufacturers. Yet as vehicle-makers also become vehicle-sellers, they need
new tools such as real-time customer segmentation, interaction and
personalisation capabilities. These are solutions that provide virtual
salespeople who move consumers towards purchase but as comfortably and
smoothly as possible.

Advances in this field of technology, which is driven by AI, have also come
just at the right moment for automakers. The big browser companies,
including Google (which has 60 per cent of the market) are ending
third-party cookies. This chokes off the data that has fuelled online
consumer personalisation and insight for years. It will no longer be
possible for an automaker to profile individual consumers by using
third-party cookies to track their activity across the rest of the internet
after a website visit. Apple and Firefox have already pulled the plug on
third-party cookies and Google will follow suit next year. All have acted
out of privacy concerns generated by data legislation such as the EU GDPR
(General Data Protection Regulation).

But to the same extent that battery technology has changed the automotive
market, the advent of easily-implemented real-time segmentation and
behavioural tracking technology gives OEMs all the insight they need to
achieve personalisation and provide customers with a more seamless
experience that moves them towards a purchase.

There are, of course, so many elements of a vehicle purchase that the
consumer can personalise, which is why it is important for manufacturers to
use technology to understand website visitors as quickly and comprehensively
as possible.
For example, most automotive manufacturers have website tools that allow
consumers to customise their preferred model, selecting an extensive range
of specifications from engine size to colour and details of interior trim.
Consumers must also choose how they will finance the purchase and perhaps,
how they will trade in or part-exchange their current vehicle.

AI-driven tracking monitors each consumer’s activity in respect of these
different elements when they visit an automaker’s website. Such solutions
use a first-party cookie to store just the unique ID of the user and are not
affected by the third-party cookie ban or privacy restrictions. This
first-party cookie remembers each visitor and their visit. As the visitor
moves around the website the technology will register the subjects that
especially interest them and spot when their behaviour indicates they are
close to buying, or, when they are about to leave.

Acting on the technology’s real-time insights, automakers can intervene with
a timely recommendation, graphic or notification, increasing the likelihood
that a wavering consumer will make a purchase, or at least book a test
drive. Any follow-up emails or communications will also be personalised in
line with their preferences.

Although buying online is far quicker and is free from haggling, many
customers who visit a manufacturer’s website still want to visit a showroom
or dealership before they make the final decision. Either way automakers
need to use segmentation and behavioural tracking technology to personalise
the experience and ensure the potential customer moves along the sales
funnel.
An automaker company will see from the metrics how this type of segmentation
and interaction technology raises conversion rates, even if customers opt
not to buy online. This is because when customers visit dealerships or
automakers’ showrooms to go for a test drive, the sales staff assisting them
are better informed about their preferences and any possible barriers to
completion of the purchase. The customers themselves also have a much
clearer idea about what they want, which saves everybody’s time and
increases efficiency.

For consumers, a vehicle remains a highly considered purchase. Back in 2015,
BMW had seen how almost all car-buyers were conducting online research,
which was reducing the number of visits they made to dealers to an average
of 1.4 from an average of four less than two decades earlier. We may now
have reached another milestone in the development of automotive retail. Much
will depend on how well an industry that thrives on innovation uses
technology to meet the new demands and expectations of consumers online.
Automakers certainly need advanced solutions such as AI-driven behavioural
tracking and real-time segmentation technology if they are to fuel increased
conversions. Online automotive is an increasingly sophisticated market where
consumers have a great deal of choice and need active, personalised guidance

Wed. January 19th, 2022

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