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The tenth edition of Driving Digital took place on Thursday 8 February at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Keynote speakers from across the industry brought the audience on a journey through the latest trends facing the automotive retail sector.
Sue Robinson, NFDA Director, introduced the event. She touched briefly on the most topical industry issues including the media speculation surrounding diesel and the car market and highlighted what the NFDA is doing to support its members and educate the public. She also mentioned the latest initiative launched by the NFDA, Drive My Career, which is now up and running (www.drivemycareer.co.uk)
Nick King, Insight Director at Auto Trader, illustrated how retailers can make the most of the modern technologies available to enhance the customer experience and meet their continuously evolving demand.
Technology is changing what we buy and how we buy. Dealerships will continue to play a crucial role, but they will have to evolve just like the other big retailers. Nick insisted the buying experience must be “easy”. Buying a car must be a pleasant experience, not a stressful one.
Neil Addley followed. Neil used real customer reviews from Judge Service, to reveal the secrets to “unlock customers’ loyalty”. He showed what people want when they buy a car and proved that elements such as offering a test drive are crucial to providing customers with a positive experience.
The third speaker at Driving Digital was Nathan Coe, Operations Director at Auto Trader. Nathan used extremely insightful data to explain why the top retailers are doing so well. Nathan explained that promotion, stock and price are the three vital principles that retailers must apply to every single vehicle.
Although he acknowledged that the main decisions are now made during the research process that takes place online, Nathan said that “dealers still represent the most important part” of the buying process.
Consumers on average spend more time on websites such as Auto Trader where they can compare a lot of different options, however, the less time spent on dealers’ websites is more significant. In fact, when customers reach a dealer’s website they are closer to the final step of their buying journey and retailers must keep this in mind.
Other key elements that dealers must focus on include: quick responses to enquiries as well as a maintaining transparent attitude. Overall, essential information that should always be displayed online includes price, condition and spec of the vehicle, finance options, information about part-exchange as well as reviews.
The fourth speaker of the day, Robert Forrester, CEO of Vertu Motors PLC provided a lucid analysis of the five core aspects of his business: culture, vision and values, basics, measurement of success and customer as well as staff satisfaction, online developments and, finally, people.
Passion, respect, professionalism, integrity, recognition, opportunity and commitment are the most important values at Vertu Motors. Robert Forrester said that basics are essential to success, an example, “no cars are on display or on the internet if they are mechanically or cosmetically unprepared”.
Robert Forrester explained how important it is to monitor not only key aspects of the customer experience, including satisfaction and complaints but also internal activities, achievements to, consequently, reward those who do well.
Vertu Motors has launched a full online experience, however, the speaker suggested that the British public is probably not ready for it yet. There is a still a certain degree of “nervousness” in pressing the button and customers tend to prefer to talk to “real people”.
Finally, people. Having the “right people”, not just “people”, is the single most important asset to a business, said Vertu Motors CEO.
The last speaker, Hamel Soni of Google Automotive, described what is happening in the market and what retailers should do to adapt. Firstly, he outlined the four biggest developments that our sector is experiencing: autonomous driving, connectivity, electrification and shared mobility. He said that the progress technology is making is extremely fast and it is “difficult for “humans to adapt” at such a fast pace. Hamel added that automotive retailers should not compare themselves to their competitors in the sector, but rather to the big retailers across different industries.
Despite the ever-increasing importance of technology, Hamel stated that 97% of customers still purchased their vehicle in store. The role of physical dealerships remains crucial, but it is clear that the role of retailers is changing and the next couple of years will prove crucial in this respect.