Buying a new vehicle is one of the most expensive and complex buying processes a modern consumer can undertake. The level of due diligence required is usually extraordinarily high, with customers typically spending weeks weighing up different makes, models and prices before making a final decision.
For consumers, there is a big difference between buying a car, versus buying something else which could be comparable in terms of cost and complexity, such as booking a holiday. The difference lies in the longevity of the commitment. When buying a car, not only do you have to weigh up the ‘up front’ differences such as make, model, and vehicle price, you also have to weigh up the long-term costs too. Most people who buy cars expect to own them for several years, so fuel economy, tax, insurance and MOT and service costs are important elements to consider before driving off the forecourt.
As technology has transformed the way we communicate, work and shop, it should come as no surprise that the first place that many car buyers head to begin their research is a car dealership website.
Whilst this is a convenient place to start for many customers, this creates problems that dealership management need to overcome, before the customer has even set foot into the physical showroom. It is much easier and quicker for a customer switch across to a competitor website than it is to travel to multiple showrooms, for example. Therefore, dealerships are competing not only on the vehicles they sell, but the quality of their websites too. To put themselves in the driver’s seat, many dealerships are integrating useful tools and features in an effort to make their websites as sticky as possible for the modern car buyer.
To find out what dealerships are doing to tackle this, we compared over 100 UK-based dealership websites. We used the data to derive the following statistics, which together form a definitive guide to the top dealership website trends in 2019.
We compared websites based on features surrounding security, customer communications, online reviews, financing options, vehicle VR and much more. Here’s what we discovered…
It might come as a bit of a surprise that 10% of dealership websites are not secure. This means that information which a user submits to the website is not encrypted, so can be viewed as plain text if an attacker were able to intercept that information. The easiest way to tell if a website is secure is if the URL is fronted with https (rather than http) with the additional ‘S’ standing for ‘secure’.
What’s more, seven of the unsecured websites we surveyed also offer customers the ability to reserve vehicles online or book test drives or service, which requires the user to input their details into a form.
Having unsecured websites can leave customers feeling untrusting of the dealership website, and this could lead to problems for dealerships who rely on website bookings. Customers are less likely to share details and information if they feel it is unsafe, so dealerships could be potentially losing out on a significant number of conversions on the basis that their website is not HTTPS.
As more consumers head online to research their next vehicle, it is important that dealership websites implement a multichannel approach when it comes to customer communications. Vehicles are complex purchases, and it is likely that a customer will have questions which will need answering before they can progress to the next stage of the buying journey.
Luckily, many dealerships are wising up to this fact and 64% of car dealership websites offer some form of chat on their websites. Alongside offering traditional contact channels such as telephone and email, live web chat provides instantaneous responses as customers travel through the website, which is often more convenient and boosts overall customer experience on the website.
There was some variation in the way live web chat was presented across the websites. Only 80% of dealerships had live web chat available on their homepage, whereas the remaining 20% required the customer to delve deeper into the website before offering a chat option.
Another interesting distinction amongst chat options was the heavy tendency towards human-powered live web chat: 77% of dealership websites offered live web chat (with human agents). 13% of the surveyed websites use chatbots and the other 10% were undetermined.
The preference for human-powered chat likely comes down to the need for detailed responses in chat conversations. Previous research conducted by Talkative revealed that the average automotive web chat interaction lasts for 17 minutes. This might be down to the fact that buying a new car is a complex process, which is reflected in the complexity of customer enquiries, so a more sophisticated service is required.
Chatbots can be useful in answering simple questions and FAQs, but are simply not yet robust enough to handle technical or low-level conversations, making human-powered live web chat the preferred choice.
Another interesting finding was that only 44% of dealership websites offered 24-hour live web chat. This is low percentage can be somewhat attributed to the fact that the majority of chat services across the websites were human powered. It can be more expensive for the dealership to provide 24-hour human support, so a compromise on offering better quality support could be a restriction on times that support is able to be provided.
On the other hand, this also shows that many dealerships are missing opportunities to convert leads. Despite many dealerships being open seven days per week, over half of all live web chat enquiries come through outside of regular opening hours. Given the customer expectation for a live web chat enquiry to yield an immediate response, if no one is available to chat this could provoke the customer to look elsewhere in search of a quicker answer. In the worst case scenario, this could result in the customer jumping ship to a competitor website.
Some dealerships have tried to prevent this by encouraging form submissions to capture lead details, whilst others try to promote their other contact channels. 22% of dealerships offered a call back service on their website, where customers can submit their name, phone number and details of their enquiry for an agent to call them back at a later time.
Call back services are beneficial in reducing contact centre waiting times, as it means fewer calls enter the queue in the first place. It is also convenient for customers, because they have the freedom to submit a request and carry on with the rest of their day without having to wait on hold. Therefore, it is surprising that the number of dealership websites offering a call back service is so low, and potentially highlights another area of opportunity for dealership websites to improve their customers’ online experience whilst making their internal processes more efficient.
As websites continue to become more functional rather than simply informative, we wanted to find out what the main objectives of dealership websites are in 2019. From early on, it was clear that there were two main calls-to-action (CTAs) which were prevalent: Book a Test Drive and Book a Service.
87% of dealership websites allowed customers to book a test drive online and 89% allowed customers to book an MOT or service online, making these CTAs the most highly consistent across all surveyed websites.
This suggests a number of things:
• That dealership websites split their focus on prospective car buyers and existing car owners almost equally
• That test drives are highly regarded as a means of boosting vehicle sales conversions
• Aftersales care is just as important to the survival of physical showrooms as new business sales
This finding also shows that the physical dealership still has a role to play in the automotive buying journey. Unlike other industries which could digitise the entire customer journey with relative ease, such as FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods) or retail for example, the physical customer journey is still necessary and important for car buyers.
Buying a car is a big investment and commitment, so customers need to be sure they are making the right decision. Being able to test drive cars is one of the most important methods customers use to distinguish between their options, and helps the customer to imagine what owning the car would be like in real life.
But even if the customer chooses to buy a vehicle without a test drive, the need for physical showrooms still exists. Aftersales support provides a significant revenue stream for many car dealerships, particularly as customers want to be sure their vehicle is in competent hands when it needs an MOT or service.
More customers are also becoming comfortable with buying and selling vehicles online, which is reflected in the fact that 14% dealership websites allow people to apply to sell their cars through their website and 22% of dealership websites allow customers to buy or reserve vehicles online. Although this not the most typical or popular way of buying a vehicle right now, the numbers of cars being bought online is increasing.
As such, we are beginning to see a change in the function of car dealership, shifting the balance from new business sales towards aftersales support, as more of the buying journey takes place online.
The increasing ability to buy and sell vehicles through the website has seen alongside it and increase in offering useful features to help customers make informed choices on vehicles through the website. According to Reuters, 87% of private cars in the UK are bought on finance, so it is logical that dealerships not only include information about the cars themselves on the website, but also in depth information about vehicle finance options too.
As such, most dealerships now offer interactive affordability calculator tools on their websites. 58% of dealership websites provide customers with an interactive finance calculator, to offer a realistic finance quote to the customer within minutes. In the past, this service would have only been available within the showroom, but many dealerships are trying to find engaging ways to convert leads on their websites by offering personalised features. Offering a personalised car finance quote gives the customers the ability to discover what is affordable for them, which helps to narrow down their options and find a vehicle that fits their budget, ahead of setting foot in a showroom.
As well as this, 72% of dealership websites offer online vehicle valuation to customers. This allows customers to submit their current vehicle details to the dealership, with a vehicle valuation to be emailed back to the customer within 24 hours. As well as offering a helpful service to customers, this is also a great method of gathering warm leads. It is safe to assume that a significant proportion of customers who apply for a vehicle valuation are interested in upgrading their vehicle relatively soon, which makes them potentially more likely to respond to invitations to visit a local dealership or book a test drive. Therefore, it’s unsurprising that ‘Value My Vehicle’ is one of the most common CTAs across dealership websites.
Aside being functional, dealership websites also have to ensure they also integrate useful and interesting features to enhance online customer experience.
One of the key trends which has emerged over the last couple of years is the ‘virtual showroom’. This idea transforms a flat website into a fully immersive dealership experience, which brings together the elements of a physical showroom and recreates them in an online environment. This can explain why we have seen a sharp uptake in live web chat and impressive features like the aforementioned finance calculators.
This has also seen a rise in ‘cool’ features such as virtual reality. 23% of dealership websites offer 360° or virtual reality options for customers to view cars. This allows the customer to view the vehicle as if they were sat inside the car itself. Users can change interior and exterior colours and finishes, as well as external surroundings to give a lifelike impression of the look and feel of the car.
Another interesting finding was that only 29% of websites also showed car and dealership reviews on product pages. This number is unexpectedly low, seeing as reviews help to boost brand trust, and also add a personal, human level to the website. Having reviews available on the page allow customers to easily read what other people had to say about the service they’d received and discuss their experiences with the vehicle and the buying process at the dealership. Encouraging customers to share their experiences not only creates a sense of community for online customers, but it’s also an effective way of enticing customers to choose their dealership, so they don’t miss out on the same great experience as previous customers.
Rather than trying to push back against a trend which is reshaping all industries, dealerships are taking steps which reflect the growing shift in consumer buying behaviour. While there is evidence to suggest that many dealerships are realistic about this change and are changing their website strategy accordingly, there is much room for improvement.
As more consumers head online to research vehicles, book services and buy cars, the roles of the website is changing. Websites aren’t simply a second-tier support tool for physical showrooms like they used to be; they are the first place where customers interact with your brand, vehicles and customer service. Over 60% of car buyers decide on price, make and model of their cars online, which proves that websites are where your customers make their decisions. Therefore, it is vital that dealerships change their outlook to ensure the showroom and website offer a holistic experience, equally weighted with one another, which offer parity in the service they provide.
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