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Automotive Retail – JJ’s perspective

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We look at how consumer needs and the role of the dealer have changed and why the buying journey might be taking another fork in the road…

The team at JJ are car owners, car lovers, and car marketers with vast sector experience and a passion for all things automotive. Over the past 28 years, we’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the biggest names in automotive – and in the last five years, have witnessed the retail industry transform at an unprecedented rate. We have been selected to work with OEMs who are leading the charge for automotive change, including SEAT and its retail store model and Hyundai in the Aftersales arena, both embracing and driving customer experience innovations.

In the past decade, consumer behaviour has changed significantly, driven by major advances in digital technology – requiring significant adaptations to the traditional retailing model. Consumers now expect immediate access to information across multiple channels, a seamless online/offline experience and pay close attention to the opinions of others when making a purchasing decision.

While other sectors have been quick to respond to the needs of the modern consumer, the automotive industry has been sluggish, clinging on to the practices of the past. Working at the forefront of retailer marketing with Volvo for over 10 years, we witnessed the beginnings of this changing landscape and the rising importance of digital first hand, watching as the automotive industry began to respond.

Nowadays, consumers are empowered with unprecedented access to information. So much of our retail engagement takes place online, and customers expect to be helped and encouraged through the buying process without working for the information they need.

For dealers, this means embracing new technologies and tools to ensure consumers’ needs are being met away from the forecourt. Examples include 360 video, instant messaging, social media, customer reviews, online valuations and virtual reality.

As Auto Trader’s trade marketing and PR agency, we’ve spent the past five years helping dealers navigate this changing landscape. We’ve played a fundamental role in the launch of its ‘Dealer Reviews’ and ‘Part-Ex Guide’ products, as well as taking full responsibility for its social media presence. What’s more, we spent four years managing the Auto Trader Dealer Update website (a key player in the trade media landscape), providing dealers with the latest news and insight to help them succeed in the marketplace.

The purchase journey now begins online, and in most instances, consumers arrive at the forecourt ready to buy. The role of the dealer has therefore shifted from commission-driven salesperson to product expert, whose role it is to validate the purchase decision and look after the customer throughout the ownership lifecycle – spanning servicing, parts and accessories.

We don’t view this as a dramatic ‘death of the dealer’ scenario, but an opportunity to adapt business models and create environments that act as brand immersive destinations for customers to experience products in comfortable surroundings.

With the advent of online routes to purchase from manufacturers such as BMW, Ford, Hyundai, Peugeot and Volvo and increasing examples of car ‘retail stores’, we’re seeing signs of the purchasing journey switching around once more. Consumers might start their journey in a physical store but purchase online at a time that suits them. Our ongoing work with SEAT to support the launch of its retail stores in Lakeside and Westfield Shopping Centres has provided us with an unrivalled understanding of this process.

It’s not just in sales that the landscape is changing. We’re also seeing innovation in the aftersales space. One of our clients, Hyundai, was recently recognised for its Workshop Automation system by the Workshop Power Awards and one of its dealers, Edgars & Son, was awarded the Motor Trader Aftersales Excellence award for its pro-active adoption of the system that ultimately aids transparency. It’s also launched a service plan programme that can be configured online or in dealership. This transparency and easy access to information is driven by consumer demand to be more informed and educated in their purchase decisions.

Have a nosey at our work for SEAT that is helping drive the change in the way consumers are buying cars. And if you fancy a chat about all things automotive, pop in for a cuppa or email us.