Is virtual retail a success in car buying?

The pandemic has led to a complete overhaul of retailing in the auto space. From fewer contact touch points to technology powered platforms, car buying has scaled newer heights led by smarter, connected and intelligent selling at every step.

May 27, 2021 SHWETA BHANOT MEHROTRA No Comments Like

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Virtual retail is a success in car buying. Auto makers have witnessed significant traffic through their digital platforms, which in turn, has encouraged them to further invest and strengthen their presence there. With car buying now becoming both, a digital as well as a physical experience, auto retail, is seeing a massive digital transformation of not just the entire channel, but also of the dealer network. 

Bakar Sadik Agwan, Senior Automotive Analyst, GlobalData says “Digital sales, undoubtedly, will emerge as a key sales channel for automakers in the long-term. However, it cannot uproot traditional sales through physical stores in a market like India. An omnichannel approach of physical and virtual showrooms will remain key for the success of Indian automotive retail. Digital transformation of dealerships will complement the offline channel to achieve sales success.”

Explaining that digital is on a continuing growth path, Vivek Srivatsa, Head, Marketing, Passenger Vehicles Business Unit, Tata Motors Limited (TML), says, “New developments, technologies and techniques are being launched round the clock. We too have developed new channels and used social media on all fronts for constant engagement to be on the top.” He adds that dealer network would continue to be an integral part of the customer journey and company’s digital strategy. “We have invested in creating a consistent and high-quality store front online, and connecting every dealership on this nation-wide digital network. We are working on making each interaction / touch point smarter and personalized with the power of data,” says Srivatsa. 

Tata Motors has had more than 40% of its customers reach out to the company via digital channels. The company launched an e-commerce platform “Click to Drive” to enable contactless buying last year.  “We received a very good response throughout last year with spikes from markets especially at the time of lockdown,” says Srivatsa. 

Some of the steps taken by TML at the digital retail front to make end-to-end customer buying process a smooth ride online includes, opening up of a Telegram channel to provide the sales team with necessary marketing support to enable distance selling, developing video brochures for cars and UVs, and using Augmented Reality and Imaginator experiences for its flagship car - Safari, for customers to visualize and configure the vehicle on the website from the comfort of their homes. 

Explaining that a car buying journey involves typically 26 steps, Shashank Srivastava, Senior Executive Director (Marketing & Sales), Maruti Suzuki India Ltd. (MSIL), says, “Maruti Suzuki has been able to digitize 24 out of 26 steps. The test drive and delivery of the car are the two touch points, which remain physical.” 

MSIL’s online digital initiative today covers over 1,000 dealerships across the country. The company has partnered with online platforms like Google and Facebook to bring global digital expertise to dealer teams. “To build digital marketing capabilities at the dealer’s end, Maruti Suzuki consistently offers training to its dealer partners to upgrade their knowledge of the online platforms. These dedicated digital lead management teams have been trained through regular physical and virtual training on the finer nuances of managing the expectations of today’s digitally-savvy customers,” explains Srivastava.

As a part of its global strategy, MG Motor India, too has been following a digital-first approach. “We have always emphasized on various digital steps throughout the customer’s buying journey. The digital strategy has been further enhanced in the new normal as the customers can book and get their vehicle delivered at home,” says Gaurav Gupta, Chief Commercial Officer and Senior Vice President, MG Motor India. He goes on to say that the company aims to integrate more digital processes into its operations while maximizing the footprint of digital services at the customer’s home. Besides, the company is already running projects such as MGCare@Home and audio-guided vehicle demonstration suite MG VPhy. 

Other players such as Hyundai Motor India Limited (HMIL) also have been one of the most successful in terms of digital transformation and establishing the concept of end-to-end digital retail sales of vehicles in India. All Hyundai, vehicles in India are now available for online sales through a network of 600 dealerships. The company launched its online retail platform ‘Click to Buy’ in June 2020 and registered 20,000 and booked 1,900 vehicles online within the first month of launch. As of early January 2021, the company claimed to have over 7 million website visits, over 54,000 enquiries, 47,000 customer registrations and more than 4,300 vehicle bookings.


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