Even before the first lockdown was announced last year, a few carmakers had some or the other kind of online car-buying mechanism in place. A few weeks into the lockdown and most started an online sales platform. By mid-2020, it was clear that an integrated phygital (physical plus digital) platform with digitally-enabled salespersons will become critical success criteria to tap into the car-buying public.
On paper, the process of buying a car online is simple. The steps are:
1. Set your budget;
2. Select a brand/model;
3. Visit the carmaker’s website;
4. Take a test drive if you wish (most dealers will send the test drive vehicle to your home/office);
5. Negotiate and finance (online and on phone);
6. Take delivery (again, most carmakers promise car delivery at home/office).
But do all carmakers have an end-to-end online sales platform? We take a look.
On the Hyundai India website, its online automotive retail platform ‘Click to Buy’ features on top of the page. ‘Click to Buy’ offers car-buyers dedicated sales consultants, online finance options and loan approval, estimated time of delivery, online test drive booking of sanitised cars, and finally home delivery of sanitised cars. While it is currently available in English, there are plans to launch it in regional languages as well. It’s claimed to be an end-to-end online car buying platform, i.e. at no stage you will have to visit the dealership.
The country’s largest carmaker has two sales channels: Arena and Nexa. While it doesn’t have a ‘Click to Buy’ kind of nomenclature for online car sales, you can buy a car online.
Arena: This website has got the ‘E-Book’ link on which once the prospective buyer fills in personal, car and dealer details, she can do the entire car-buying process sitting at home/office.
Nexa: It has got the ‘E-Book Now’ link on top of the page, which works exactly as ‘E-Book’ on Arena.
Kia India has an online car configurator on its website that lets you select a model, customise it, get a test drive either at home or office, and even home delivery. There is a dedicated sales representative who guides you through finance and other options. The website has a link called ‘VR Showroom’ that lets you take a closer look at most car features.
Called ‘Honda from Home’, this online booking platform lets you select a model, choose a dealership, share your details, and pay and book online. The website also has the ‘Honda Virtual Showroom’ on which you can experience most features of a car virtually.
Called ‘Click to Drive’, this platform lets you explore Tata cars and services, reserve a car online, and get price quotation, financing options and estimate on your old car via email, video chat or WhatsApp. It also allows you to either pick up the car at a dealership or have it delivered. The website has a link called ‘Imaginator’ that gives you a detailed look into car features, and especially the Safari AR Imaginator literally places the car inside your living room.
Like Maruti Suzuki, Toyota Kirloskar Motor also doesn’t have a name for an online car sales channel, but the website allows you to buy. Its website has an ‘eBOOK’ link on top of the page, using which you can choose a model (ex-showroom prices are displayed next to the car), choose a variant, colour and dealership, fill in personal details, and pay online.
Called ‘Own-Online’, this platform lets prospective buyers select, customise, compare, book and buy a vehicle. You also get instant exchange quotes, finance and insurance options, and opt for contactless delivery at a chosen place after making payment. Because Mahindra sells only SUVs—and SUVs are customisation-friendly—there is an option of adding accessories to your vehicle, including body kits, cabin refurbishment, sound system, and so on.
Citroën has launched 100% direct online buying for the new C5 Aircross SUV, and 20% pre-bookings of the C5 Aircross were online. The French carmaker said that customers in over 50 Indian cities outside its dealer network are covered through this direct online buying initiative and can order directly from the factory. A dedicated e-commerce-enabled website with selection of finance, insurance, annual maintenance packages, extended warranty as well as trade-in of the existing car is available. The company added that customers are supported by a dedicated test drive fleet, e-sales advisor, virtual product demo and doorstep delivery facility.
Audi, Mercedes-Benz, JLR India, Volvo and BMW all offer online booking and sales of their models. Audi India has an augmented reality feature and a 360-degree product visualiser that lets you see the car in 3D. Under ‘Merc from Home’, you can buy new and used Mercedes-Benz cars.
Separate sales channel?
Carmakers say online isn’t a separate sales channel, but a platform that complements dealership sales. It doesn’t imply that, in the future, carmakers will directly start selling to end-consumers. “Online or offline, a car has to be sold through dealerships. Dealers are not middle men, they are our partners,” carmakers say.
Is the experience holistic?
While augmented reality and virtual reality technologies have advanced a lot, the experience is unable to match the touch-and-feel of a physical product—car-buying is a personalised process, and buyers want to touch-and-feel and drive the product before making a decision. Good thing here is that in areas where there is no strict lockdown, dealers are sending cars to prospective customers’ homes before they make a buying decision.
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