Brand experience centers, at-home maintenance, service pick-up and drop-off: These are the modern automotive dreams, new research shows. - Image courtesy of Cox Automotive

Brand experience centers, at-home maintenance, service pick-up and drop-off: These are the modern automotive dreams, new research shows.

Image courtesy of Cox Automotive

ATLANTA – It’s no secret the current car-buying experience has room for improvement and that few owners are looking forward to the next 3-hour wait while their vehicle is serviced. But what does an ideal automotive consumer experience actually look like? A new report from Cox Automotive released today provides a road map.

“We want to understand exactly what a better automobile ownership experience looks like, as we believe success in the decade ahead will be fueled by offering consumers more than just a great product."

Reimagining the Automotive Consumer Experience is a comprehensive look at the opportunities all stakeholders in the automotive industry have to improve the overall automotive experience for consumers. The comprehensive report was developed by a Cox Automotive team of experts who spent the better part of 2019 interviewing futurists, organizing focus groups, developing concepts and surveying 2,000 consumers to measure the merit of each concept. The report includes insights from the new 2019 Cox Automotive Future of Consumer Experience study.

“Our goal with this report was to paint a clear picture for ourselves and the industry,” said Jessica Stafford, senior vice president and general manager of Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book, Cox Automotive companies. “We want to understand exactly what a better automobile ownership experience looks like, as we believe success in the decade ahead will be fueled by offering consumers more than just a great product. Consumers are looking for personalized experiences tailored to their specific needs and preferences. Their expectations and demands are getting higher across all verticals, even automotive.”

New research from Cox Automotive finds that only 1 in 3 consumers are “very satisfied” with the current dealership model, demonstrating an opportunity and need for improvements. Further, the research indicates a few relatively simple changes can be implemented without significant disruption and have the potential to deliver big improvements to the overall automotive experience.

“There was a time when product differentiation was a main driver of the purchase decision,” Stafford added. “But as all vehicles have vastly improved over time, we believe the consumer experience, in both buying and owning, has become more important than ever and can be the differentiator in the marketplace and ultimately drive purchase decisions.”

In the research, the Cox Automotive team zeroed in on the wants and expectations of “Trailblazer” consumers, those people most likely to embrace new technology and services. While these early adopters were a minority of the larger group, it was concluded that Trailblazer expectations would become mainstream by mid-decade.

The key finding fell into two categories. First, consumers are most interested in changes that will reduce unwanted friction in the vehicle buying and service experience – changes that will make their lives easier. The message in the research is clear: Consumer want to spend less time at traditional dealerships. They want their experience to be convenient, personalized and easy, based on their preferences and schedule.

Secondly, consumers are looking for ways to immerse themselves in product details without the help of a salesperson. Seven in 10 consumers find the idea of a “Brand Experience Center” – separate from a traditional showroom – to be an appealing concept. Consumers still want to interact, but they want to do it on their terms.

Download a copy of the Reimagining the Automotive Consumer Experience report.

Consumers Seek Less Friction in Service and Acquisition 

In a world experimenting with drone-delivered pizzas, it may come as no surprise that U.S. consumers are interested in services that help make their lives easier – services that reduces friction, i.e., the amount of effort a consumer must personally put forth.

In the research backing the study, consumers indicated the most friction in the current automotive experience is found during the vehicle purchase process (acquisition) and during routine service and maintenance visits. Naturally, services that streamline and improve these areas are most appealing.

Among the most attractive concepts: Consumers universally agreed – 89% – that an ideal ownership experience would include a service to pick-up a vehicle in need of maintenance or repair and return the vehicle when the work is complete. How appealing is the concept? Nearly 70% of consumers would consider switching to a brand offering the benefit.

Other top friction-reducing concepts include at-home vehicle maintenance, new-vehicle delivery, and hassle-free return or swap of a newly purchased vehicle.

Consumers Want Time with the Vehicle, Not the Salespeople

While consumers are seeking ways to reduce time spent in acquisition mode or to support routine maintenance, the modern vehicle buyer is also interested in immersive, high-touch experiences while researching a vehicle to buy.

It is a misconception that consumers don’t want to visit dealerships, the research shows. What consumers don’t want is the hard sell. Six in 10 consumers want help from dealership staff – a product specialist, not a salesperson – to learn more about products. For this reason, the concept of Brand Experience Centers performed very well in the research, as the no-sales environment provides a chance for shoppers to experience the vehicle on their own terms. Test-drive delivery, where a new-vehicle is brought directly to the potential buyer for a test drive – possibly 24 hours in length – was appealing as well.

The research shows consumers are more likely to trust brands that offer no-hassle experience centers, with product displays and opportunities to drive a vehicle. Slightly more than half of consumers surveyed by Cox Automotive indicated they would likely switch to a brand that offered this concept.

Industry Stakeholders Should Pay Attention to Forward Thinking Trailblazer Consumers

To understand the Reimagining the Automotive Consumer Experience report, it’s important to understand the central group of consumers the Cox Automotive research team identified as Trailblazers. These consumers are early technology adopters and open to new technology in their vehicle shopping and activities. They likely have already had a positive experience with at least one of the proposed concepts, which suggests some service providers are already delivering on these concepts to gain a competitive advantage.

The research team believes today’s Trailblazers are tomorrow’s average car buyer and that Trailblazer attitudes and expectations will become mainstream within 3 to 5 years. Trailblazers are more likely to find virtual test drive capability appealing and to embrace the idea of vehicle recommendations powered by artificial intelligence (AI). Trailblazers want to use voice-controlled vehicle search systems while shopping and are also more likely to rely on AI systems embedded into vehicles to recommend service or maintenance intervals.

Trailblazers made up 17% of the total 2,000 participants surveyed. Nearly half of the Trailblazers were Gen Z or Millennials – under the age of 40 – and 63% of this group was “very open” to switching vehicle brands. Conversely, only 37% of average consumers are “very open” to switching brands. Notably, millennials are the largest car-buying cohort in the U.S.

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