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Automotive Customer Report 2021: What the Buyer Journey Reveals

Our latest research explores the impact of digital experiences

OEMs are tasked with a big question: how can automotive brands sustainably satisfy their new prospects and existing customers? Long-held truths about the sector are being challenged and reimagined, fueled by factors including digital transformation, environmental pressures and customer expectations. To help answer that fundamental question, the Sitecore, Microsoft and Publicis Sapient Automotive Customer 2021 Global Research Study digs deep into the desires, preferences and anxieties across the buyer’s journey.

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"The automotive industry is driven by shifting customer preferences and new technologies. Today’s customer demands more of us than ever before and the loyalty is won or lost in every interaction. The race is now on to create competitive advantage through a clearly differentiated overall offline and online experience."
Aswin Mannepalli, Global Director, Industry Strategy and Marketing for Automotive, Sitecore

Current State of Play: Markets Overview

Regional and demographic nuances prove critical in establishing an overview of the current state of play in global automotive markets. The digital buyer’s journey from research to purchase is informed by country and age-specific influences.

Purchases directly from the manufacturer are particularly popular in the UAE, China and India, where online platforms are also most popular.

Dealerships are much less popular with younger generations than their older predecessors, while manufacturers are in a better position to take ownership of the delivery of compelling digital experiences, which are rising in popularity. Digital platforms also see a significant increase of 5 percent, highlighting the polarity in preference and experience between these two age groups.

Only 26 percent of respondents agree that their current car dealership knows what they want. While this number is much higher in India (50 percent) and the UAE (54 percent), it drops as low as 14 percent amongst Swedish respondents and 16 percent for the French.

Source: Sitecore, Microsoft and Publicis Sapient Automotive Customer Report 2021 Global Research Study

Direct-to-consumer (D2C) has become a relevant channel, which is also reflected in the sales figures of manufacturers currently offering this business model. However, with the exception of China, India and the UAE, the majority of customers are still not fully convinced by purely online offerings.

Four Key Takeways

1. Digital is the new normal:

For 56 percent of respondents, the manufacturer’s website is the most relevant channel throughout the relationship with the brand, a figure consistent across many countries and age cohorts.

2. Digital experience is an essential enabler, but this varies by region:

The digital experience is exceptionally important in mobile-first digital nations such as China (83 percent), India (84 percent) and the UAE (79 percent), yet for other respondents digital is less important, such as in France (37 percent), Belgium (39 percent) and the Netherlands (39 percent).

3. Dealerships face challenges:

Younger generations are more comfortable buying directly from the manufacturer or through digital channels. 

4. Direct-to-Consumer (D2C) is growing:

This is the perfect time for manufacturers to confidently invest in a D2C model powered by customer analytics that lead the way to personalization and excellent digital experiences.


Opportunities and Risks for Manufacturers and Dealerships

A D2C sales model allows manufacturers to own and control the entire end user relationship, resulting in improved customer relationships at a time when loyalty is harder than ever to build. On the other hand, with limited digital capabilities, manufacturers can no longer afford to outsource customer experience to dealerships, or risk a poor experience falling back on the brand. Customers are truly won and lost in real-time. To tackle increased customer promiscuity, manufacturers will need to be able to make intuitive, data-driven reflex decisions in real-time.

Dealerships can be the experts while bridging online and offline customer experiences. They remain a point of interface between the customer and the vehicle. This invaluable ability to offer face time enables dealerships to grow their understanding of their customer base, while at the same time build loyalty by sharing expertise of emerging mobility technologies. Dealerships can remain ever-relevant by reinventing service offerings to compete with manufacturers that offer D2C.

Philip Beil
Philip Beil
Transportation & Mobility Lead, EMEA & APAC