The repercussions that the coronavirus emergency will have on the entire automotive industry are dramatic, although it is not yet possible to quantify its impact without knowing how long this suffering phase will be. What is certain is that, today, the production of vehicles is stopped, the dealerships are temporarily closed, registrations have inevitably stopped (-85% in March) and the crisis will continue over the next few months.
Yet, if Italy and almost all the world are in lockdown, the web has never been more active, confirming itself as an essential resource for operators in the sector. We have therefore chosen to look at the data that emerge both from the study of consumer behavior on the net and from the strategies implemented by dealers in recent weeks.
What consumers do on the web
The pandemic redefines Italians purchasing priorities and, at the moment, European consumers are online looking for basic necessities. Still, plenty of free time allows searching for the new car even for those who had not planned this purchase within a short time. Our analyses of all the touchpoints of the car purchase process, digital and otherwise, reveal a net lengthening of the choosing phase.
Those who were planning to buy a car, unable to go to the dealership, are now on the web: looking for information, making comparisons, simulating financing and trying to thoughtfully choose their new car. A survey conducted by us on a sample of 1,000 users who, in the first 15 days of lockdown, requested a quote for a new car on the DriveK portal, revealed that to the requests of those who want to buy to replace their vehicle as soon as possible were added the requests of those who had planned this purchase, but not immediately. As a percentage, while 18% say they have an immediate need, 42% of the sample interviewed would like to change cars between 1 and 3 months, and 40% even further in time. It is a pool of contacts that dealers must keep close even during this lock down phase, because they represent business opportunities to be transformed into sales in the aftermath of the crisis. The patience of users, aware of the current situation, emerges from the fact that almost all (97.5%) are willing to wait for the end of the quarantine to go to the dealership and close the deal.
What dealers do on the web
Having a base of potential customers to monitor and to interact with, also in these weeks, clashes with the decision of many operators to suspend the advertising campaigns on Facebook, although users continue to use the platform. Yet, in this scenario where many companies have chosen not to communicate, building their brand awareness costs less and it is necessary to maintain lead generation strategies for the future. Google‘s auto search trends, on the other hand, show that from the beginning of the emergency sudden drops and sudden ups and downs have alternated, a trend that can be exploited maintaining one’s position through SEO and SEM activities, and by collecting traffic leveraging on fewer advertisers to optimize the acquisition cost.
Our analyses also reveal that, despite the moment of strong uncertainty, there is a slice of customers who say that they are willing to buy a car today and evaluate innovative practices such as selecting the vehicle via virtual showroom, blocking the car with a deposit paid online and digital signature of purchase and financing documents. The dealers able to respond to customer requests with these digital practices ensure, even in this difficult phase, a competitive advantage.
In an almost paradoxical situation, this dramatic condition of suffering could turn out to be a very strong driving force towards the digitalization of the sector: if it is true that for a long time the social distancing will remain valid, digital will represent a resource that is no longer accessory for dealers, who himself must today interact digitally with customers more effectively. Meanwhile, car manufacturers are asked to be close to the distribution network not only with economic support but also by supporting dealers in their technological acceleration.
Dealers who have not stopped investing in their digital presence, and who therefore still receive traffic on their site, must work in these hours on the quality of their shop window: the customer must be impressed both by the offer of vehicles and by the response to contact. The opportunity is given by the ability to build a relationship. In this sense, video calls, chats, interactions on WhatsApp and particular commercial offers only on the web – conducted with a style suited to the particular stress condition in which you find yourself – can represent winning weapons, as well as social loyalty and customer support campaigns who has already purchased.