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Viral trend: Going digital

S.Muralidhar | Updated on April 30, 2020 Published on April 30, 2020

Car makers are creating online sales platforms to enable buyers to shop for their wheels from their couch

Sometime during the second quarter of 2019, Mercedes-Benz started rolling out globally its renewed, even more focused digital marketing initiative called ‘Best Customer Experience 4.0’ which was meant to enable the German luxury car brand to sell one out of every four Mercs online by 2025, using augmented reality and other digital tools.

But even an aggressive marketing plan like that wouldn’t have factored in the disruptive effect of the Coronavirus and the unexpected, emergent need to go online barely six months after that announcement.

For a product that has always been considered one for which touch and feel are paramount, the virus is going to be the driver for customers who may have been reluctant to go online, and on the other hand will probably help manufacturers report some sales volume during these desperate times. The spread and scope of online sales will still be constrained by country-specific laws governing digital transactions, but car makers are gung-ho about the prospects of supplementing brick and mortar dealership sales post-lockdown.

Desperate measures

After nearly six weeks of near zero sales at the dealerships, it is also a pretty dire situation for car makers and their idle sales and service network. Despite extensive financial support extended by manufacturers in the form of payment deferments and interest cost waivers, there will still be a portion of the impact that will have to be absorbed by the dealers. Many are expected to bear a portion of the interest costs and there is no guarantee of sales picking up steam right after the lockdown, which then means sales incentives and margins will remain under pressure well after the dealerships get to open their doors again for customers.

Earlier this week, one of the first car brands to announce going digital and making the entire process of selecting, customising and buying contactless was Mercedes-Benz India. The company claims to have set up both the front-end and back-end infrastructure online and offline to make the process of buying one of its cars as seamless as it would be in a brick and mortar model. Customers simply go to Mercedes-Benz India’s dedicated online shop, choose the model, customise it and even get a live consultation with a product expert who can, if needed, walk you through via video showcasing and demonstrating the car you’ve chosen. An online concierge service will be available and Mercedes-Benz India says that the dealership network has also been integrated and retail partners will now offer a unified online customer experience through ‘Roadster Inc.’ which will be the platform aggregator. The dealer can then help with the delivery of the car at the customer’s location making the transaction entirely digital and contactless. Almost simultaneously, the other luxury car biggie BMW India also joined the digital sales bandwagon. The company has set up a dedicated portal for contactless online sales where visiting prospective customers can research, virtually experience the car in front of them, consult with a dealer representative and coordinate payments and other services.

BMW has also said that the car will be delivered at the customer’s requested location after a thorough sanitisation process. The platform can be used for purchase of new and pre-owned cars. A number of other super luxury car brands including the likes of Rolls-Royce already have apps that can be downloaded for researching their cars and customising them online before an order can be placed.

Not just luxury

But this time it hasn’t been restricted to just luxury brands, some of the other mass market car brands like Volkswagen and Honda have also joined the fray. The Japanese car maker, for example, has launched ‘Honda from Home’ an online booking platform which attempts to bring together multiple processes into one concept. Customers can visit the company’s corporate website, browse and choose the model and variant of their liking and even use the on-site payment gateway to make a booking.

After selecting their location and the dealership nearest to them, the customers will be contacted by the Honda dealer for taking the next steps before delivery.

Volkswagen India has also officially announced a similar initiative. The company has said that all its 137 sales and 116 service outlets and touch points have been integrated, so that customers can go online and book either a car or a service requirement at a preferred dealership or service location.

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Published on April 30, 2020
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