Skip links

The automotive industry is at a turning point that will transform retail, service and customer experience

Digital transformation requires no introduction these days. 

In the first two months of COVID-19 in 2020, two years’ worth of digital transformation took place. Businesses, and even whole industries had to scramble to catch up on all things digital.

In many ways, the pandemic-driven digital revolution was just an extension of the work Alecia Wilson had been doing for years. She was already helping automotive dealers enhance their online presence and adopt digital marketing strategies when the rate of transformation accelerated in March 2020.

Now, as Vice President of Sales at Vog App Developers, Wilson applies that industry knowledge to assist clients in the automotive space and other sectors who are developing custom digital strategies and applications. 

In the automotive sector, she believes the most important transformation that many clients need to tackle is digital retailing, improving customer experience, and transforming the way vehicles are serviced.

Automotive’s biggest priority is improving customer experience

One of the top priorities for the automotive sector is a shift to digital retailing, encouraging customers to complete more of their purchase journey online, says Wilson.

“That often takes the form of a web-based app because the biggest thing dealerships need to focus on is how to make the customer experience better.” 

This is especially true since the pandemic, as there are many shoppers who want to spend as little time as necessary in-store, she explains. 

“In automotive, your digital presence, your website, your app – they are your digital showroom. That’s not a new term, we’ve been calling it that for years. It’s really about how you can make it even better and easier and smoother for your customers.”

While the auto industry has made some progress in the digital realm over the years, (particularly in dense urban markets with higher levels of competition,) the overall picture for customer experience could still be improved. 

A 2020 pre-pandemic Qualtrics study of more than 10,000 consumers gave the sector mediocre marks on customer experience. Consumers reported that only TV/Internet providers were more likely than auto dealerships to have delivered a bad customer experience, and that 43% of those bad experiences directly influenced customers to reduce their spending at the dealership or walk away altogether. 

But things have dramatically evolved over the last two years. 

“The onset of COVID really accelerated things in a positive way because dealers who were more hesitant to invest in technology really had to dive in,” Wilson says. “That’s especially the case in Ontario because it was one of the first provinces to essentially shut down. Dealerships were closed, or ran by appointment only. They really had to change their approach to digital and how their businesses were perceived online.”

The numbers around the shift to digital retailing are striking. 

According to a survey by ELEND Solutions, a company that offers financing options to dealerships, “78% of auto dealers said that the pandemic accelerated their adoption of digital path-to-purchase experiences – and a whopping 90% say they expect to continue, or accelerate, digital retailing at their dealership. Only 10% will pull back on the implementation as life goes back to ‘normal’.” 

It seems clear that the COVID-19 shift towards digital adoption is likely to be permanent, the survey concludes. 

Three key steps to transforming your digital retailing efforts 

Despite progress in the past few years, Wilson says there’s still plenty of work to be done in automotive retail to enhance customer experience, digitize, and ultimately drive sales.  

Wilson says best-in-class dealerships and automotive groups will focus on three key elements:

1. Be your own customer to spot digital pain points 

“First, dealers need to relentlessly look through the lens their customers have on their business,” she says. “When it comes to financing, especially in auto, it’s complex and unique and intricate. If dealers sit down and buy a car on their own website they’ll understand that experience. They’ll see where things don’t work or are complicated.”

2. Digitize the service element

“Service is one area that could be improved,” she says. “If you are dropping a car off for an oil change, you don’t want the service advisor calling to upsell you. But you might have missed the fact your brakes are rusted out. That you need to know. What if an app could tell you what is wrong with your car, what needs to be done to fix it, and the cost increase?  This is definitely an opportunity to improve the client experience.”

3.Automate and streamline customers’ digital experience

“What if I, as a customer, had an app that could pop up a notification to remind me of an upcoming service?” she asks. “Why not have that warranty and schedule and service information available in the app, on-demand? Think of all the information that could be there and how it would help with upselling, customer retention and loyalty.”