Configuring a Car in the Digital Age

As a case study in bet­ter under­stand­ing the car-buy­ing expe­ri­ence for con­sumers, I’ve begun my own search for a new vehi­cle and am doc­u­ment­ing the expe­ri­ence in a series of blog posts. The goal is to iden­ti­fy where in the jour­ney the auto­mo­tive indus­try can improve the expe­ri­ence with mod­ern dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing, and exam­ine the over­all process for gaps in the tran­si­tion from one phase to the next.

The Great Configurator

The first step in my car-buy­ing process was to do some research. There were a few car brands that I was ini­tial­ly inter­est­ed in and some that I wasn’t. I added one from the “not-inter­est­ed” list after look­ing through some mate­r­i­al and being intrigued by the “expe­ri­ence” that they were sell­ing. After set­tling on four brands, I went to their sites and began the process of con­fig­ur­ing my car.

In today’s day and age, it’s expect­ed that cus­tomers should be able to choose the small­est details about their new car. After all, it’s the sec­ond largest invest­ment most peo­ple make besides their home. How­ev­er, I found myself to be over­whelmed by the num­ber of avail­able options to choose from. I don’t real­ly care what the engine looks like, I just want it to run!

There were some pack­ages with cer­tain options for things like cold weath­er, but I didn’t find any that suit­ed my exact needs with­out hav­ing a num­ber of extra­ne­ous add-ons tow­ing along for the ride. All the while the price tag increas­es, and in the end I felt like the car I was look­ing at was not nec­es­sar­i­ly what I want­ed and cer­tain­ly not in my ini­tial price range.

Anoth­er thing I noticed was the con­spic­u­ous lack of a back but­ton on many of the sites. It was hard to com­pare dif­fer­ent pack­ages side-by-side, and once some­thing was cho­sen it was near­ly impos­si­ble to back­track and fix a mis­take or try anoth­er con­fig­u­ra­tion. Once you’ve passed the point of no return, the only option is to quit and start over. I think I ran through one site four or five times before set­tling on a con­fig­u­ra­tion I liked, and the use of a friend­lier inter­face for choos­ing and com­par­ing options would have been helpful.

A Dig­i­tal Mar­ket­ing Viewpoint

I think the auto­mo­tive indus­try has a lot to gain from inte­grat­ing dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing best prac­tices through­out the car-buy­ing expe­ri­ence. The major­i­ty of con­sumers want a friend­ly inter­face that helps them make deci­sions and is easy to use. While the option to select the minut­est detail of your car should be avail­able, it might not be the best expe­ri­ence for the major­i­ty of con­sumers who may not know all of the ins and outs of the buy­ing process.

The con­fig­u­ra­tor should be devel­oped to be more cus­tomer focused. Instead of being shown a carte blanche menu of all avail­able options, the con­fig­u­ra­tor should be smart and ask you the ques­tions to help fig­ure out what car best fits your needs. It should be a trust­ed advi­sor that helps you along in your journey.

One exam­ple would be dig­i­tal sug­ges­tions based on a series of ques­tions about what you are look­ing for in a car, such as seat­ing, gas, mileage, and type of dri­ving. This helps nar­row down the types of cars and options you are look­ing for right away, before you’re even shown a drop-down menu full of var­i­ous auto accessories.

Once you are in the selec­tion process, per­haps there is tim­ing built in that prompts you if you need more infor­ma­tion if you were to hov­er over a spe­cif­ic part. You could then be direct­ed to resources on the part you’re look­ing at, includ­ing the dif­fer­ent options and ben­e­fits. Once you’re edu­cat­ed, maybe you’re redi­rect­ed to the cart blanche screen to fine-tune the order.

Anoth­er impor­tant fact revolves around authen­ti­ca­tion. A user should nev­er need to login in order to run a con­fig­u­ra­tor, as the tools must be freely acces­si­ble and not have a high bar­ri­er for inter­ac­tion. How­ev­er, users should be able to cre­ate an account to save their con­fig­u­ra­tions, have their pro­files avail­able for a bet­ter cus­tomer expe­ri­ence down­stream, or sim­ply be able to login back in lat­er and com­pare dif­fer­ent con­fig­u­ra­tions. This could mean the cus­tomer returns a week lat­er and logs in to find the pre­vi­ous­ly con­fig­ured car is still wait­ing, per­haps with fea­tured acces­sories or spe­cial offers.

Or the infor­ma­tion could be used for retar­get­ing the cus­tomer with ads from the sup­pli­er across oth­er plat­forms like desk­top or mobile. It’s impor­tant for con­sumers to get real val­ue from reg­is­ter­ing, oth­er­wise they might feel tar­get­ed by the busi­ness, which can erode trust.

This is a cru­cial bar­ri­er to bridge, where the con­sumer changes from an unknown to a known enti­ty. This rela­tion­ship will shape future inter­ac­tions and allow orig­i­nal equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers (OEMs) to offer insight into the consumer’s buy­ing process with tru­ly rel­e­vant con­tent. This is where OEMs can scale their efforts with tar­get­ing and cam­paign automa­tion to help build and nur­ture the con­sumer journey.

Mov­ing Onwards

Now there are some sites out there that pro­vide a great expe­ri­ence and cap­ture many of the ben­e­fits out­lined above. There was one par­tic­u­lar brand that I had an amaz­ing expe­ri­ence with. This com­pa­ny asked me a few ques­tions and had me nar­rowed down to five dif­fer­ent pack­ages with­in min­utes of using the site. After select­ing one, an offer was sent as a PDF to my email and I received a call with­in 12 hours to sched­ule a test dri­ve. Once the date and time were set, I received an email cal­en­dar invite from the deal­er sav­ing the date for my test drive.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, you’ll have to wait until the next blog to hear about how the expe­ri­ence at the deal­er went.