Digital Car Buying Experiences Keep Automakers in the Fast Lane

The automotive industry is feeling the impact of COVID-19. Over the last few months, manufacturing processes have been disrupted, consumers delayed buying cars, and transportation habits shifted dramatically.


In June, The European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) radically revised its 2020 forecast for passenger car registrations. Now, it predicts that registrations will drop by about 25%. That means that it expects car sales in the European Union to tumble by more than 3 million units this year. 

The road to recovery is uncertain, but one thing is for sure -- this pandemic will permanently change how cars are bought, sold, and even used. It will reinforce and accelerate the need for innovation in almost all aspects of the industry.

An obvious example is how dealerships are rethinking their car buying experiences. Dealerships are being forced to move away from their decades-old, in-person sales processes and bring more of the customer journey online.  

Most decisions were made online, even before the pandemic

Even before the pandemic, 92% of car buyers researched information online before they bought a car. In fact, more than half of the total shopping experience took place online. 

By the time a car buyer stepped foot in a dealership, they'd narrowed down their search significantly. Many even knew what make/model they wanted. 

The point is, online experiences have always been a crucial part of buying a car. No one wants to sit inside a dealership cubicle for three hours for information they could find online. 

For that reason, the quality and efficiency of online content has always made a real difference in winning over potential car buyers. Car dealers have been using solutions like chatbots to meet their customers online for years now. 

Chatbots simplify the pre-sales journey by getting customers quick answers to a number of questions. They compare prices and models, book test drives, and help customers calculate financial information.

The difference now is that people are willing to do even more online. One study found that a quarter of consumers said they would buy a vehicle without even seeing it in-person.

With access to virtual test drives, augmented reality, and unlimited content, people feel more confident making larger purchases online. With or without coronavirus, we're seeing companies like Tesla banking on that idea; Tesla's direct-to-consumer model takes place fully online, putting the customer in total control.

Digital retail keeps car sales moving

Car manufacturers that did well during the pandemic did so through digital channels. For example, in May – one of the worst months in the history of car sales – Hyundai Motor was down just 13%. In a statement, the company attributed the success, in part, to its digital retail tools. 

The company's Live Chat Video feature made it easy for customers to buy cars online. The service allowed customers to connect to dealers face-to-face using their web browser and webcam. 

Hyundai had already taken significant steps to digitize the car-buying process. They'd had success with chatbots for a number of pre-sales use cases. Now, Hyundai is digitizing the experiences that are usually reserved for dealerships and showrooms.

COVID-19 only enforced the importance of online interaction at all stages of the purchase funnel. For big-ticket purchases like cars, businesses must offer a wider range of digital customer support. They should layer hyper-personalized experiences on top of the essentials like chatbots and marketing automation. 

Conversational technology takes car buying experiences to the next level

Car dealers must change the way that they engage with customers for long-term success. Even after coronavirus concerns fade, it's likely that a number of car buying customers will continue to seek contactless experiences. 

As a result, dealers will need to be more flexible in their sales approaches. We'll likely see a shift towards brand ambassadors who are responsible for all aspects involved in the sale, instead of siloed departments and roles. 

Innovative companies like Hyundai will profit from their ability to adapt. The combination of chatbot and human agent will be a winning model; the two will work in unison to create a frictionless buying experience. 

Chatbots will do the heavy lifting related to education and prequalification. Then, the brand ambassador will talk through remaining concerns, questions, and add a necessary human touch.

The ability to seamlessly hand the customer off from chatbot to human (and vice versa) will be key in speeding up the process and maintaining customer satisfaction. 

An all-in-one solution for digital car buying experiences

At Hubtype, we help enterprise companies serve customers at scale through messaging. With our platform, companies are able to automate up to 80% of the customer journey meaningfully. 

More than that, our platform is designed to handle the chatbot-human handoff seamlessly, and makes for a frictionless user experience. 

What we do at Hubtype goes well beyond chatbots, because industries like the automotive sector require more. They need conversational apps and interfaces that can handle complicated workflows. They also need to balance transactional and high-touch customer service based on their customers' needs and wants.  

We have the tools that are necessary to bring your car buying experience to the next level. Contact us to see if Hubtype is a good fit for you.