The New Digital Shopping Journey for Automotive Consumers

The way that consumers shop for and purchase a new vehicle has evolved over the years. Ten years ago, the average consumer visited between five to seven automotive dealerships prior to purchasing a vehicle. But now, the automotive customer journey primarily takes place in the digital world. Because of this shift to the digital world, today’s average consumer only visits one dealership prior to purchasing a vehicle.

Every company in the automotive industry must be prepared to sell to consumers in the digital world in order to stay competitive. But first, they must understand the different stages of the digital shopping journey for automotive consumers.

Stage 1: Digital Engagement

The first stage of the digital shopping journey for automotive consumers is digital engagement, which is similar to the awareness stage of the classic consumer buying cycle.

The goal of this stage is to increase brand awareness among your target audience. Your target audience should not only be familiar with your brand but also should understand how you are different from your competitors. Focus on promoting the latest news related to your brand to keep your target audience informed.

Automotive brands should use social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Instagram to connect with consumers during this stage of the buying journey.

Facilitating two-way communication between your brand and target audience is the key to succeeding during this stage. Social media platforms give brands the opportunity to connect directly with consumers, so you should use this to your advantage. Respond to consumers’ questions, comments, and complaints on social media. Thank consumers for their feedback, regardless of whether or not it is positive.

Not only is this a great way to engage with consumers, but it will also give you the chance to show off your brand’s unique personality.

Stage 2: Virtual Engagement & Configuration

The next stage in the digital buying journey is virtual engagement and configuration, which is similar to the information gathering stage of the classic consumer buying cycle.

Take engagement with your target audience to the next level during this stage of the buying journey. The purpose of the first stage was to inform your audience and respond to all social media interactions. But go one step further during this stage by working with them one-on-one to help them find the information they need in real-time.

Automotive brands should use live chats, virtual reality showrooms, video chats, and their website to reach consumers during this stage of the buying journey.

For example, automotive brands could offer digital consumers video consultations to help them find the right vehicle for their lifestyle and budget. Automotive companies could also create virtual showrooms for their online consumers. Inside these showrooms, consumers can connect directly with a sales representative who can take them on a virtual tour of a specific vehicle.

In other words, the goal should be to create a personalized sales pitch for each of your digital consumers. This will make consumers feel as if they are walking the showroom floor with a sales representative without ever stepping foot inside a dealership.

Stage 3: Dedicated Cross-Channel Assistance

The third stage in the digital shopping journey for automotive consumers is dedicated cross-channel assistance.

A consumer who enters this stage of the buying journey has already conducted research regarding their options and tentatively decided on which model they are interested in purchasing. But now, they are interested in using an online car configurator to customize their vehicle. They want to be able to build their own vehicle, see what the vehicle will look like in various colors, and find out exactly how much it will cost to purchase their custom creation.

This is an important stage in the digital buying journey. In fact, meeting your customer’s needs during this stage is the key to closing the deal. But unfortunately, many automotive brands lose touch with their customers during this stage.

Automotive brands should use live chats or video consultations to guide consumers through this stage. Walk them through how to use the online car configuration tool. Help them finalize the add-on features, colors, and other design elements of their custom vehicle.

To succeed during this stage, focus on responding quickly to consumers and providing personalized advice. Be prepared to provide in-person support at your dealership if a consumer needs additional assistance.

Stage 4: Personal Driving Experience

After completing the dedicated cross-channel assistance stage, a consumer moves into the personal driving experience stage of the digital automotive shopping journey.

The test drive is a crucial stage in the decision-making process for automotive consumers. But it can present a unique challenge to automotive brands, who must be able to figure out how to offer a test drive to digital consumers.

There are two ways to meet the digital consumer’s journey during this phase. First, automotive brands can offer consumers the opportunity to take a virtual test drive. A virtual test drive, which is powered by virtual reality technology, allows consumers to see what it’s like to sit behind the wheel of a vehicle without ever leaving the comfort of their home.

The second option is making it easier for digital consumers to schedule and take an in-person test drive. For example, give consumers the option to schedule a test drive through your website. Allow them to confirm their identity and provide required documentation online to reduce the amount of time they have to spend at the dealership.

Automotive brands could also offer to bring the vehicle to the consumer so they can take a test drive in their neighborhood without having to visit the dealership.

The goal of this stage is to make the test drive as easy and convenient as possible for digital consumers.

Stage 5: Exclusive & Custom Offer

The fifth stage in the digital buying journey is the exclusive and custom offer. In the traditional consumer buying cycle, this stage is part of the purchase phase.

The automotive brand and the consumer complete their transaction during this stage. But this involves much more than simply clicking a button or providing a digital signature. Remember, a vehicle is a significant financial investment, so consumers may need additional support in order to feel comfortable with the decision to close the deal.

Make yourself available to consumers during this stage of the process via phone, video consultation, and live chat. If consumers aren’t adequately supported during this stage, they may get cold feet and completely back out of the deal.

Be sure to give consumers the opportunity to sign their contract online so they don’t need to visit the dealership in person to finalize the deal. They should be able to provide a digital signature in order to complete the purchase of their vehicle.

Stage 6: Ongoing Engagement

The sixth stage, which is ongoing engagement, is also part of the purchase phase of the traditional consumer buying cycle. The goal of the fifth stage is to get the consumer to sign the contract and close the deal. But the goal of this stage is to keep them engaged between the time the contract is signed and the time their vehicle is delivered.

One way to keep customers engaged is to create personalized videos for them in the days or weeks leading up to the arrival of their vehicle. Take them behind the scenes to see the production process of their vehicle or send them a video of their vehicle driving off the lot on its way to their home. Send these videos via email or text.

If there is a long wait between the time the contract is signed and the time the vehicle is delivered, be sure to send regular updates to the consumer. They shouldn’t feel like they are no longer important to you simply because they already signed the contract. Use this time to build excitement and strengthen your relationship with your customer.

Stage 7: Enhanced Experience Through In-Car Assistance

The enhanced experience through the in-car assistance phase is the final stage in the digital automotive shopping journey. At this point, the consumer is already in possession of their vehicle, but that doesn’t mean the digital buying journey is over. Now, the goal is to retain this customer so they always purchase vehicles from your company instead of going to a competitor.

To retain a customer, focus on providing additional services such as routine maintenance and repairs. Allow customers to schedule these appointments online to make it as convenient as possible for them.

You should also follow up with each customer to ensure they are completely satisfied with their vehicle. If they aren’t satisfied, make an effort to address their concerns.

Use connected in-car features to interact with your customers. For example, use these features to share the latest news or brand updates with customers who are already driving your vehicles.

Buying a vehicle is a significant financial investment, which is why today’s consumers expect extraordinary, personalized customer service at every stage in the digital shopping journey. Experts believe that the number of consumers who shop for a vehicle online will continue to grow in the future. For this reason, it’s important for automotive companies to invest heavily in meeting the demands of these new digital consumers.