With more car shoppers online, it’s time for the auto industry to simplify the journey

Al-Karim Awadia, Kamal Oberoi / December 2020

Al-Karim Awadia, head of auto at Google Canada, and Kamal Oberoi, auto insights lead at Google Canada, share new industry insights and trends from this year’s Think Auto 2020 event.

This year, the auto industry quickly embraced digital tools and found new ways to engage with customers when visiting a dealership wasn’t an option. However, even as dealerships reopened, the shift to online didn’t stop. People have now experienced the convenience of buying a car online and they won’t go back to their old ways. The auto industry shouldn’t either.

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This has pushed the industry past the “tipping point” of digital change to digital transformation. Car buyers have now strengthened their digital muscles and want simple, seamless ways to buy online. Dealers and manufacturers can use the digital insights at their disposal to meet evolving consumer expectations, and help deliver the services they want.

Consumers now expect an online experience

The world is changing rapidly but dealers and manufacturers now have a wealth of first-party data available and partners to help them make sense of it. Insights from customer data, sales history and more can help guide strategies now and in the future, and help identify the services your customers expect.

Trends show we’re in a car buyer’s market, and 42% of Canadian shoppers are showing increased intent in owning a vehicle.1 This may be because people are looking at personal cars as a way to keep themselves and their families safe. In the spring, a University of Toronto study found one-quarter of people taking public transit would switch to personal cars.2

Car buyers are also relying more heavily on online touch points, are well-researched and ready to buy. Online video continues to play an important role throughout the research journey. One-third of auto buyers say YouTube helped to change/reinforce brand perception.3

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We’re seeing 90% of car buyers relying on online research4 and an acceleration between research and buying, with 57% of consumers researching and buying within the first month.5 As well, 68% of volume and 62% of luxury car buyers visit one dealership during their journey.6 This means you only have one shot to make that sale.

Stay close to what customers are looking for, adapt services to best meet their needs, and reach more potential customers in the critical online research period.

Simplify the journey using digital tools

The pandemic stripped customer demand down to its simplest form — people either need a vehicle now, or can wait. Before the pandemic, 78% of new car buyers preferred to “walk-in” to dealerships, and that number dropped to 59% during the pandemic.7

People are now accustomed to high-tech features and will continue to want them in the future.

Simplify the online purchase journey by regularly updating your Google My Business profile, and ensure your website and other digital channels offer clear and transparent guidance around hours, available services, prices, financing options and more. Make sure you’re showing up in search and YouTube to reach people during the research phase and include clear calls-to-action to help them efficiently make their purchases.

People are now accustomed to high-tech features and will continue to want them in the future. Digital experiences, like virtual sales meetings to virtual test drives and 360 views of cars, help simplify the buying journey. Investing in long-term strategies now will position you to reach customers well beyond the pandemic.

Stay visible through ups-and-downs

Keep online channels and marketing active even during slower periods so you can be there for customers when they are looking for you.

Early in the pandemic, when COVID-19 forced the closure of dealerships across the country, Kia Canada opted to continue engaging with customers on digital channels. They saw a 16% increase in digital leads and some of the strongest sales performance results from an auto manufacturer in Canada.

In March, Kia Canada released an ad for the new Kia Seltos on YouTube. The video, which features the Billie Eilish song “Bad Guy," is now the top ad Canadians chose to watch on YouTube Canada this year, and has received more than 4 million views.

“Kia Canada has been heavily invested in digital marketing channels for mass reach and awareness for a number of years now,” said Michael Kopke, director of marketing at Kia Canada. “The mediums’ ability to provide contextual messaging to various audiences has yielded strong results for us. During the challenging height of COVID this spring, we opted to hold digital investment in place to keep our voice strong as people became housebound and their online engagement increased.”

This year’s auto trends are showing us that no customer journey is the same. However, digital tools, channels and insights are helping dealers and manufacturers simplify the customer journey, to reach the right people at the right time, with the right message.

Watch the full Think Auto 2020 event video to learn more about Google Canada's latest auto buyers research, industry best practices, and insights on the future of the car buying experience.

Canadian auto trends show the demand for cars hasn’t gone away — it’s gone digital