Buying a car in the disruptive digital world

At work at the moment we have a number of clients for whom digital is presenting some turbulent, disruptive challenges. Many of these clients are forced to face the challenges head on. One industry which has faced digital disruption head on is the retail car industry.

A couple of weeks ago, we needed to replace Mrs H’s car. Our Hyundai Trajet has been the family car for eight years, and with four young kids, there aren’t many durable alternatives open to us.

Like most people we went to AutoTrader and looked for options. AutoTrader is the leader in the car industry (more on that later); it’s easy to use and enables users to filter exactly what’s needed. For us it’s at least 6 seats, automatic (Mrs H’s requirement) and we only wanted to see results within 20 miles of where we live because we’d be schlepping the kids around with us to look for cars.

Some of the results were from Car Giant – which is advertised as a car supermarket with over 1,500 cars available for viewing (apparently there’s another 3,500 ‘in the back’). It’s reasonably close to our house so we went for a visit.

I’ll skip the details of the visit, other than to say that the entire experience is ruthlessly efficient, for both customers and Car Giant. Within 2 hours of opening on the Sunday they’d already sold 200 cars. You need to be efficient to cope with that much stock and customers.

Back to the digital elements… After we’d taken a car for a test drive we thought about speaking to them about financial options. They gave us the headlines and some time to think about it. So I got out my phone and within a few minutes I’d arranged an improved offer with my bank using their standard banking app. And despite being a Sunday, the money was in my account immediately (can someone remind me why cheques take time to clear…?).

When we ordered the car, they asked the standard questions like “Where did you hear about Car Giant?”. I answered AutoTrader and the sales guy said that virtually everyone answers the same. AutoTrader is the ubiquitous car search engine. He asked what car magazines we’d used for research and I answered that we hadn’t read any magazines, just online websites and he said that he hadn’t had a single customer in the last month that had answered with a magazine title.

Clearly people buy car magazines such as Top Gear and the top selling Auto Express but I suspect their readers either buy brand new cars (which Car Giant doesn’t sell) or want to hear news and stories about cars rather than buying advice.

Three days later we came to collect the car. Full credit to whoever designed the internal IT systems at Car Giant because the process was silky smooth and again, ruthlessly efficient. The advisor went through all the steps on the screen with us (checking paperwork and so on), and just like visiting an Apple store, by the time you leave the place, they’d emailed all the necessary paperwork.

Many companies are experiencing more disruption than any previous period. I congratulate Car Giant for embracing the disruption and transforming their business into the efficient operation which attracts customers on AutoTrader, through to the collection process.

I just wonder what the industry will look like in another 8 years’ time.

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