Why the Automotive Industry Needs a Digital-First Customer Experience Strategy

For the last few years, global consumers have been moving towards a shopping model almost entirely facilitated by e-commerce growth. From food to childcare, it’s possible to purchase goods and services – across virtually every sector – with the tap of a screen. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the automotive industry also saw a huge influx in commercial and consumer interest surrounding digital experiences and online tools.

Since customers are getting used to handling the car-buying process from their desktop or mobile devices, automotive brands are being rushed into the e-commerce sphere like never before. 

To reach the growing base of consumers who spend the majority of their time online, auto brands have to adopt an online user experience strategy that can span across multiple demographics and niches. 

What was previously only a trend among younger consumers is being taken over by the masses, and teenagers and seniors alike are looking for ways to shop online. Read on to learn more about the core reasons why the automotive industry must embrace a digital-first customer experience strategy.

Why the Automotive Industry Needs a Digital-First Customer Experience Strategy

What is digital customer experience?

Making your online customers feel seen, heard, and valued is more important to the growth of your business than you might expect. As we enter the ever-expanding digital landscape, this element is becoming even more essential across e-commerce and brick-and-mortar shopping

In short, digitization starts and stops at the customer level. This means that all changes, actions, and functions in a digital marketing or business strategy should keep the customer’s goals at the forefront. Understanding the standard consumer profile for any respective brand’s target audience is always the first step, but there is more to the digital customer experience than a couple of email campaigns and some A/B testing.

In the automotive industry, digital customer experience is used throughout the entire shopping process to target, reach, and communicate with the ideal consumer. This information is built from a variety of factors, including:

  • Online shopping trends
  • Mobile app use
  • SEO
  • Content branding
  • Email response rate
  • Social media marketing

Essentially, a customer’s digital experience is a virtual representation of your brand from the eyes of a consumer, site visitor, or potential client.

Tapering down the salesly language and focusing on objective, educational content is one way to move your digitization strategy to the level of the consumer. In general, customers are tired of being “sold to” and instead are looking for meaningful experiences when they’re shopping online.

However, there are three primary forms of digital experience management:

Why the Automotive Industry Needs a Digital-First Customer Experience Strategy


Digital media and e-commerce activity is still heavily influenced by trends in desktop-based customer experience analysis. Since much of the world is continuing to work remotely, we’re spending even more time sitting behind a desktop screen.

In between video calls and checking work emails, many users are spending their breaks on social media, or window shopping with their favorite brands. The auto industry is jumping onto this trend by making online car shopping more seamless and simplified than ever before. 

Content marketing, SEO branding, campaign planning, and analytics are easily adapted to desktop usage trends and customer behavior analysis. These tools can help brands to guide the right users to the right products while cultivating brand recognition and interest without the glaring conspicuousness of billboards and in-person sales pitches. 

Cultivating a favorable digital-first customer experience can help potential customers make the decision to pursue a purchase with a respective brand while making it easier for them to complete their purchase with a few clicks. 

Why the Automotive Industry Needs a Digital-First Customer Experience Strategy


In many cases, mobile customer digital experience elements can be the same as those found on a brand’s desktop-based online environment. From marketing strategy to web analytics and paid media, these elements are built to be viewed and interacted with via a user’s mobile device – such as a phone or tablet. 

Other elements that can build a digital customer experience include social media marketing, proprietary apps, and email automation.

The majority of the world accesses the internet from a mobile device, and this metric is only continuing to grow. Phones are more accessible than ever, and at least 85 percent of mobile users prefer apps over mobile-friendly browser sites

To tap into this growing corner of the digital market, automotive brands are expanding their mobile offerings to include:

  • AR-assisted shopping features
  • Ship-to-home or ship-to-store
  • Video and image search
  • Instant mobile financing
  • Two-factor identification for proprietary accounts

While email, social media, and other marketing elements are reachable via desktop environments, mobile-friendly versions are typically more concise and accessible for users on the go.

Why the Automotive Industry Needs a Digital-First Customer Experience Strategy


Brick-and-mortar dealerships aren’t exempt from this digital expansion, as customers are looking for certain features no matter where they’re shopping from. AR and AI-assisted shopping apps, virtual showrooms, and enhanced in-store advertising are proven to reach more consumers – while keeping current ones in front of your inventory for more time.

Using mobile apps, in-store virtual environments, or even a tablet in the showroom can give customers instant access to:

  • Live inventory updates
  • Virtual testing programs
  • Customizable content (color, features, add-ons to meet specifications)
  • Detailed self-led research

Instead of limiting the shopping experience to the information provided by an onsite sales representative, customers can take their shopping trip into their own hands with digital customer experience management

Why the Automotive Industry Needs a Digital-First Customer Experience Strategy

What trends are driving digitization in automotive?

Digitization isn’t a one-way street. There are a variety of different factors that are changing the way customers and brands interact with each other in 2020.

Some of the top trends that are driving digitization in automotive are:

  • Increased connectivity
  • Wireless solutions
  • Internet of Things (IoT)
  • Heightened customer expectations
  • Increased client autonomy
  • Environmental regulations
  • Efficiency/productivity prioritization
  • Cybersecurity awareness

As a result, online auto brands are taking these changes into account to create their best digital-first customer experience for their respective client base.

While the auto industry has been historically resistant to change, these trends are showing that this is one sphere that prioritizes scalability, growth, and flexibility in the digital age. In fact, experts expect to see an increase in digital investment of at least 24 percent over the next couple of years.

Customer centricity is paving the way for a new, consumer-first business model in the automotive industry as a whole. This follows the idea that shoppers should be in charge of their shopping experience, particularly through the use of digital functions and devices. 

To ensure a seamless transition into this strategy, auto brands must synchronize their mobile, desktop, and in-store shopping experiences to facilitate ease of use and intuitive design. As a result, customers can cultivate a shopping experience that reflects their own unique needs and goals.

Why the Automotive Industry Needs a Digital-First Customer Experience Strategy

What are the key factors affecting the automotive industry?

Did you know that digital cybersecurity and personal data measures have changed significantly in the past few years? Are you aware of the environmental changes that are sweeping across the global automotive market? All of these factors, and more, are making a huge impact on the digitalization of car sales as a whole.

As we’ve navigated through the recent economic downturn, amid a global pandemic, customers are looking for new ways to make their car shopping processes easier and safer than in previous years. 

Cybersecurity trends are driving development across the digital sphere, including the automotive industry. To prevent data theft, identity risks, and cyber-attacks across the board, facilitating secure communications is a current necessity. 

Consumers are harboring a growing distrust of digital brands, despite preferring this level of accessibility over in-person sessions. 

Automotive brands are prioritizing cybersecurity by enlisting added protection through:

  • Data encryption
  • Multi-factor identification
  • Biometric connectivity
  • Secure mobile app development
  • Firewalls

Environmental changes, and subsequent regulations surrounding fuel efficiency and waste production, is another change that is sweeping through the global automotive retail sector. 

Not only have we seen an increased interest in electric vehicles, but customers are also prioritizing practical functions over flashy advertising tactics. These changes are being used by automotive brands to adapt and innovate their product offerings while adjusting their digital branding and commercial activities to appeal to this dynamic consumer base.

Connected vehicles are also making waves, and affecting the widespread digitization of the auto industry. Not only are more shoppers looking for self-driving cars than in previous years, but they’re also shopping for more traditional models that offer car-to-mobile and car-to-car connectivity. 

Using this type of technology, through the IoT framework, cars are learning how to make decisions using external stimulus. This can include signals provided by other internet-connected vehicles, obstacles on the road, and even commands from a mobile device. 

Apps and mobile devices with connected vehicles can be used for everything from unlocking the vehicle remotely to sending information to the car’s built-in computer structure. In this way, mobile and wearable devices can connect to the vehicle to make every trip easier and more convenient – while keeping those inside and outside of the car safer than before. 

Proprietary apps, augmented reality connectivity, and enhanced security measures can rely on the vehicle owner’s 

Furthermore, consumers want more control in the process. From financing to delivery, shoppers are expecting to apply their lengthy research to make the best decisions for their unique needs. This means that brands have more responsibility to provide:

  • Intuitive site design
  • Functional mobile apps
  • Increased digitization in physical shopping spaces
  • Improved productivity across the supply chain
  • Detailed, easily accessible information and research material
  • Highly autonomous shopping tools and inventory management methods

Shoppers don’t want to head to multiple car lots to scope out the inventory and negotiate terms with earnest salespeople. Instead, consumers are largely preferring to conduct a lot of the research and planning on their own to trim the transaction and save time from start to finish.

What is the importance of the automobile industry in global e-commerce?

Many industries have changed and moved to adapt to rapid changes caused by the pandemic and related economic shifts around the world. Since the automotive industry is projected to account for more than $9 trillion worldwide through 2030, this sector is responsible for a significant amount of revenue for a multitude of countries, brands, and commercial entities.

But, the automotive industry is evolving. Putting customers first is essential to tapping into virtually every demographic on the market.

In fact, overlooking this element of the customer experience is one of the main setbacks auto brands are experiencing in 2021. To combat economic slumps and a reduction in the sales pipeline, putting the customer at the forefront of your sales and marketing strategy (throughout digital connectivity and virtual shopping tools) is one of the most impactful data points to boost turnover, reduce cart abandonment, and increase referrals.

Responding to the significant growth in digital commerce and virtual shopping trends is one of the most influential factors that can keep the automotive industry powerful and scalable as the world continues to navigate through this untouched territory. We’re all still learning about our new digitally enhanced world, and reaching customers via virtual customer experience management is at the forefront. 

By quickly and seamlessly responding to consumer trends, economic changes, and even manufacturing shifts – automotive brands can continue to stay ahead of the curve and build favorable, user-friendly online experiences for every user.

The automotive industry needs a digital-first customer experience to continue to keep decision-making power and autonomy in the hands of the consumer. Whether shoppers are looking for a used commuter car or a special-edition luxury model, they’re trying to move the shopping model into their own hands and out of the hands of industry retailers, salespeople, and third-party agents. This includes financing, customization, customer relationship management, and more.

Tap into the growing sector of digital-first customers by building an e-commerce structure that is intuitive, scalable, and easily accessible from any and every IoT-connected device. Whether shoppers want to take their tablet to the dealership, test drive through a VR headset, or handle the entire process from their phone at home – building a digital-first customer experience is essential for all auto brands that want to keep up in this ever-changing consumer market.