Google India's latest consumer insights report claims that the pandemic hasn't waned consumer intent on buying cars in India. The report claims that the intent has been accelerated by the COVID-19 crisis. In contrast, the report claims that this pandemic has found the stakeholders in the automotive sector flat-footed as they seek new ways to reach consumers digitally while adopting a multi-channel approach.
Google claims that while the intent to buy cars had gone down by 35 per cent during the lockdown periods, the latest search data indicates that the purchase intents are back to pre-lockdown levels since June. 45 per cent of consumers have plans to buy a car sooner as per an Auto Pulse Report despite the shroud of an economic downturn caused by the pandemic.
"In an uncertain and ever-changing environment, the need for dealer digitisation and omnichannel presence has hastened as the auto industry looks for alternative ways to connect with customers online and future-proof its recovery," states the report which has been penned by Google's Nikhil Bansal.
The uptick in online usage is driving this sea of change. The report claims on average users are online for more than 2 hours per week which has led to a surge in "Search Queries" for cars on Google. Bansal's report goes on to state that increasingly people will want to buy products or engage with a brand online from the comfort of their homes.
The report has a few recommendations for the automotive industry.
1. Dealerships have to be digitised: The report claims that between 2016-2019, visits to dealerships had already gone down by over 50 per cent. The pandemic has made the situation worse and 4 out 5 people in India, who plan on buying a car, would want to buy it online. Interestingly, Google claims that 2/3rds of the potential consumers will also end up making their purchase faster if they had an online option. The report cites data from Maruti Suzuki which claims that its sales inquiries have increased from 3 to 39 percent in the last three years indicating that the writing was on the wall for the offline-only model of auto dealerships in the country.
2. A focus on personalisation: As per the report, more than 90 per cent of consumers depend on online searches for their research that includes a mix of fishing on dealer and brand websites, review portals, YouTube videos, etc. Importantly, 56 per cent of the consumers are coming to the dealer portal which begs the need for better personalization tools on these websites in wake of social distancing measures forced upon everyone. The report recommends things like virtual consultations, online load processing, online processing, online aftermarket services, and even integrating third-party reviews on the platform.
3. The car should come to the buyer: For test drives, technologies like VR should be adopted for virtual drives, alongside ample video-based review content, configuration engines, and virtual conferences. In case, it is possible to physically experience the car, then Google's data states the test drives that are done from home remain the preferred option for most potential buyers.
4. The interesting thing here is that, in fact, some OEMs have been digitising their platforms for quite a while. Like Maruti Suzuki, even Hyundai has seen an uptick in online bookings which have increased from 10-12 percent to 25 percent now. Audi, for instance, has been at the forefront of deploying VR and AR experiences for their customers, while its rival in the premium segment Mercedes has had a digital concierge service for a while.
The broader stroke of this report is that the auto sector has been quite fragmented with the adaption of new digital technologies and now is the time to cash on them in a cohesive and standardised way regardless of the price categories they are operating in.