At some point over the last five years, our connection to car culture as we have known it has started to shift. Perhaps the experience of buying a car at a dealership has become less inspirational, aspirational and special – and frankly, more of an expensive chore or necessity. More likely however, we have seen consumers look to online resources and word-of-mouth in their car-buying decision-making process.
And while COVID-19 has accelerated the course to full digital retail for a number of businesses, the push for the auto sector to enter the e-commerce world started years ago.
A change in consumer preferences and habits
In a 2015 study by Accenture , 10,000 consumers in eight major countries found that 80 per cent of drivers seeking to purchase a new vehicle were using some form of digital technology to research their buying preferences. Nearly two-thirds were initiating the car-buying process online, including consulting social media channels, before entering a dealership.
Additionally, three-quarters of the survey respondents said that if given the opportunity, they would consider making their entire car-buying process online, including financing, price negotiation, back-office paperwork and home delivery. These results speak to a consumer base looking for a new way to make the second biggest purchase in their lives. And that was five years ago.
In May of this year, Google released a study  identifying five key trends shaping the auto sector moving forward, including the consumer desire to have the dealer experience closer to home. Here are the activities auto shoppers ranked by preference as good alternatives to a dealer visit:
- At-home test drive
- Review videos
- Digital showroom
- Online configurator
- VR test drive
While these suggestions make a lot of sense given our current climate – and it’s likely that post-pandemic, shifts in consumer behaviour will persist – dealers and OEMs should think aout the specific kind of content assets that need to be developed to support these activities in market. What is the purpose of each asset and where, and how, can the consumer interact with it? These are important considerations to create what is needed without overspending.
How content can be used to support the preferences of today’s auto shoppers
Before the pandemic, auto shoppers were turning to YouTube to experience digital test drives, product reviews and feature demos. This practice has become even more important given the current crisis. Brands that want buyers to engage with specific models and initiative specific activities (like arranging a test drive at your home) need to consider highlighting video content of interior overviews, walk arounds, test drives and review videos. Here are examples we have created for our clients.
Online brand experiences
Hyundai’s luxury brand Genesis Canada started to test and push a full online brand experience in 2017 and 2018. Offering everything from maintenance pickup, vehicle replacement, detailed digital information on all Genesis vehicles and service offerings as well as a full, online purchase and delivery functionality, SJC created a series of multi-format videos to highlight, promote and convey this high-end, ultra-convenient offering.
In the the years since, Hyundai and a number of original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) have made a push to create more and more video and digital content to assist the consumer in their preliminary research including product videos, walk-arounds, and full 360 interactive views of the exterior and interiors of their vehicle lineup.
Interactive 360 photography
If car buyers can’t physically see and sit in the vehicle, content needs to be created to convey that experience in the best possible manner. Fully interactive 360 views of the interior and exteriors of the vehicle is a great execution that truly gives the consumer the opportunity to learn and discover everything they need to understand and appreciate the car. At any time, users can drill down on a highlighted feature through pop-up video or animated content, without leaving the 360. Interactive 360s are essential in grabbing and keeping a consumer’s interest. In terms of conversion, consumers can click to other content offerings, arrange a test drive or video conference with a nearby dealer, or even begin the purchase process.
You can also check out a 360 interactive example for Subaru here.
Augmented reality and virtual test drive
While virtual test-drive also made the list of desired consumer experiences, there are a number of ways to go about delivering on it. The most common virtual test drive experience isn’t actually virtual; it is essentially a POV (point of view) video. This is an easy-to-produce asset that does a good job of conveying the functionality of the various features, systems and aesthetics of the driving experience. It is not however, an adequate representation of the actual driving experience and all the momentum, power and feel that goes with it. Nor does it convey how one physically feels in the various seats, the sight lines or the actual function of features like cruise control or switching from automatic to manual.
Augmented reality (AR) is proving to be an invaluable tool to assist in the explanation some of the more advanced technology currently available. Like many OEMs, Mitsubishi has been active producing new electric and hybrid drive vehicles. Though this technology is becoming more common, it can still be complicated to explain in easily understandable visuals to a consumer. To improve this customer experience, SJC created an AR-assisted sales tool. Preloaded onto an iPad, the object-based augmented reality tool is activated by simply pointing it at the vehicle in question. Sales associates and the consumer can then see an overlay of the various drive systems, and interact with each for a better understanding of the function and benefits of each.
The Road Ahead
Perhaps unlike any time in history, OEMs need to truly remember what it is to be a consumer making a big purchase. Car buyers have reset their expectations around how they wish to research, explore, compare and ultimately arrive at their buying decision. Any digital tactic that can bring confidence to that decision process is of tremendous value.
For any tactic to be effective however, it must be executed with exceptional and affordable content, that goes beyond the flash of a broadcast ad. It’s content that is readily available in the format the individual needs in the moment.
That’s why SJC continues to push the boundaries of exceptional retail experiences for auto.