Seamless connection between online and offline operations is the key to conquering The Next Digital Frontier in Auto, according to the panellists of the feature session of that title hosted by Autotrader & CarsGuide Chief Executive Officer Shaun Cornelius at AADA 2020 Moving Forward.

In discussion with Craig O’Donnell, Head of Digital Platforms and Experience at Volkswagen Group Australia, Jamie Moyle, Digital Manager of CarGiantWA, and Dorian Lapthorne, Director of Deloitte Motor Industry Insights & Analytics, Mr Cornelius endeavoured to uncover the latest insights and emerging trends in new and used vehicle purchase consideration and the role of digital influence.

Mr Moyle said ease and convenience were driving behaviour, and stressed the importance of assisting the customer from online into the dealership. Mr Cornelius agreed, and said that more choice, more information, more empowerment and more options for modes of interaction were leading to better experience for buyers.

Research showed the importance of online showrooms, with 60% of respondents saying they felt it was important, 51% saying they’d be more likely to buy from with online showroom, and 70% were open to and interested in potentially conducting the entire buying experience online, “and that’s something we wouldn’t have seen in years gone by”, Mr Cornelius said.

“Sometimes people talk about online as separate to offline. It’s one overall buyer experience. Omnichannel: it’s sometimes a buzzword but I think it’s important to recognise that’s how you need to interact.”

Mr O’Donnell said the COVID-19 pandemic had accelerated a trend towards online research and shopping that began several years ago.

“Customers are just trying to find information, and find ways so they can do it in an environment that’s at their own pace,” he said.

“Previously that might have been motor shows, now it’s online. Probably over the last five years customers have been digital first. Maybe it’s not the most influential point, but it’s been a significant player in the purchase process for five or six years. This year especially, a lot of those things have been accelerated, a lot of the digital buying, not just in auto but also outside of the industry, has just become the normal way in which we shop.”

Mr Lapthorne said Deloitte had witnessed the power of integrating the online and offline experience to eliminate any ‘disconnect’ a customer might feel.

“We’ve seen Dealer groups in the US have quite a bit of success and the key that they’ve stumbled across is not having a disconnect between the offline and the online world. You need to have that totally integrated so that when people come in having been to the virtual showroom and having perhaps specified a car online, they don’t then enter the showroom and have to start again, or they don’t get nine-tenths of the way down the process and have to go somewhere else to do a finance deal. When you can combine those online and offline worlds together, we see more and more success,” he said.

“The thing that I think I’d say though, as we roll forward, is we’re not going to throw a switch. We’re not going to suddenly find the whole world will start buying cars online, or the whole world will only want to see vehicles in online showrooms.

“We’re going to see gradual changes. We’re going to see brands and OEMs work together to perhaps sell particular models online. We’re going to see different parts of the country work in different ways, so metropolitan Dealers might work one way, rural Dealers might work another – there might be a more offline presence in rural Dealers. But the key is bringing them all together and having that work seamlessly together as customers work through their purchase process. That’s when we see success around the world, when brands and OEMs and Dealers can work together to connect all those elements. You don’t get the disconnects along the way, and you get happy customers.”

Mr Lapthorne stressed the importance and value of using data to enable those connections.

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