Panel: Online experience new battleground for buyers
Photo credit: Joe Wilssens
DETROIT -- With brand competition so close these days on vehicle quality, cost and styling, the customer shopping experience online and in the store has become a key battleground for automakers, panelists from Google, Hyundai and TrueCar said Wednesday at the Automotive News World Congress.
Hyundai is putting as much emphasis on improving its Web presence for shoppers as on improving its dealer facilities and operating practices, said Dave Zuchowski, executive vice president of national sales for Hyundai Motor America.
A failure to do so could mean losing a potential customer online before the shopper even gets on a dealership's radar screen through a store visit, test drive or by leaving contact information, Zuchowski said.
"The consumer experience remains one of the few ways left for a brand to effectively carve out a sustainable competitive advantage that is exceedingly difficult to match," Zuchowski said.
Photo credit: Joe Wilssens
Changing minds online
A recent Google study reveals how much cross-shopping happens online and the many points during the shopping process when buyers can change their minds about vehicles, said Kim Stonehouse, Google's automotive industry development manager.
Based on information from 10,000 vehicle buyers, Google found that 63 percent of new vehicle purchasers begin their search with a specific brand in mind, but only 20 percent purchase the vehicle they first researched online.
"It's clear that brand consideration can be won or lost at any point throughout this loop," Stonehouse said in an interview before her panel appearance.
Google, which jointly conducted the study with Compete and Polk, also found that shoppers spend 73 percent of their online time cross-shopping different brands and models, Stonehouse said. The typical customer is in play for about 90 days as they begin their shopping journey and conclude it with a vehicle purchase, she said.
Price vs. efficient process
TrueCar CEO Scott Painter said the online car-buying process is becoming so transparent that eventually there will be little difference in the ultimate price that dealers can fetch for the same model.
Consequently, dealerships must focus on providing a quality and efficient process to coax shoppers into the showroom, then getting them out through finance and the rest of the process as quickly as possible. TrueCar is a car-buying site that helps consumers educate themselves about dealerships and provides a forum for dealerships to offer guaranteed prices for vehicles.
Zuchowski said Hyundai's more than 800 dealers have spent about $500 million in recent months to improve their facilities to give their stores a polished, uniform look.
But online improvements at Hyundai have been just as critical, he said. More than two years ago, Hyundai offered a subsidy to its dealers to get on a uniform Web site with a vendor that could update incentives and other information to their site whenever changes were made on Hyundai's corporate Web site, Zuchowski said.
That provides consumers with consistent information whether they go to the factory Web site or the dealer sites, he said. Dealers like the program so much, he said, that more than 90 percent continue to use the vendor Web site as their primary site facing consumers.
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