THERE are some people I know who look back nostalgically to a time before mobile phones and wish those days of undisturbed peace could return.
As much as I’d like to have some downtime from notifications every now and again, in the main, life is a lot better these days thanks to that little black device in my pocket.
I can answer emails from the beach or FaceTime my mother on her round-Australia trip from a ski lift in the French Alps. I can see what my friends have had for breakfast or gauge the mood of the nation after the latest brain fart from the President of the United States. I can order a taxi and watch it drive towards me and know accurately the time and place it will arrive. I can buy pretty much anything I can think of with one press of my finger and have it delivered the next day – or if I’m really desperate, a few hours later.
I remember a time when I would sit on my sofa on a Friday night, order a tikka bhuna over the phone (when I could finally get through) and then wait for many hours before it turned up. These days I fire up an app, choose with my finger and have it delivered half an hour before it was due because the takeaway fears the bad feedback will knock them down the preferred list of eateries.
I can pay bills while sitting on the train, I can check the weather forecast while I’m walking the dogs, and can update my diary while I’m shopping. I’ve got every single picture I’ve taken in the past five years at my fingertips – some 10,000 of them – and videos of my six-year-old daughter lip-syncing to Taylor Swift on demand (if I can watch them again). I can watch feature-length movies that download from thin air, find my way when I’m lost or, if things are really desperate, use the thing as a phone.
Let’s face it, few gadgets have changed our lives quite like the mobile phone – or more accurately, the iPhone. It’s not hard to see why it’s become such a go-to gadget: it’s all about convenience. It excels at making things easier, quicker and simpler. Every single one of us is time-poor these days – lives have got busy. While gadgets have made those mundane tasks easier, we’ve managed to fill our regained time with other, far more important things.
So if consumers these days haven’t got time to visit the bank, to go to the shops, to wait on the phone for a taxi or a takeaway, then how much longer are they going to have time to shop for a car?
We already know that car buyers don’t visit any more than one dealership these days in their search for a new car – they know what they want, they’ve watched the video reviews, they’ve crunched the prices, they’ve even chosen their specification and colour. They’re at your dealership to do the deal – in fact, they already know the deal they want; they’re only really sitting in front of you to sign the paperwork.
So why do they even need to do that? If they already know what they want, if they’ve already done all the research they’ll ever need to do, why do they even need to leave their sofa? To test-drive it, I hear you say. Well maybe, but is it tradition that dictates they come to you for that? In these time-poor days, shouldn’t you really be going to them?
Oh, but what about their part-exchange, you retort. Well, I’ve got news for you there too: there are plenty of online car-buying sites that’ll give them a price online.
Yes, it might be less than you’d offer, but do they care? Have you seen the latest PR line from the biggest buying site that makes a huge deal about the fact it may offer less but it’s quicker and easier than going to you?
Manufacturers are getting wise to it. Last month we reported on Hyundai’s first Click To Buy customer – a punter who completed his whole purchase online. Smart is at it, Peugeot is getting in on it too, and there will be many more to come. BMW’s chief of sales and marketing, Ian Robertson, even told me this month about a doctor who ordered a new 5 Series on its website at 2am.
The automotive industry has invested heavily in bricks and mortar, so the move to digital retailing was always going to be a reluctant one. And it doesn’t help that initiatives to move car selling online haven’t all gone swimmingly in the past.
However, there are seismic shifts afoot.
There was a time when people used a mobile phone to make phone calls; now one in four people never even make calls on theirs.
Dealerships need to get wise to these changes – simply remembering that convenience is key for consumers these days and working out how to change to give them that might just be the saviour of this great industry.
Who is James Baggott? He’s the founder of Car Dealer Magazine and chief executive officer of parent company The Baize Group, an automotive services provider. He now spends most of his time on Twitter @CarDealerEd and annoying the rest of us.
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