The pandemic may have pushed consumers’ lives increasingly inward, in some cases overnight, but some aspects of current consumer behavior remain unchanged. According to a study by JD Power, titled “2021 India Sales Satisfaction Study”, a high propensity for physical visits to showrooms for the purchase of vehicles remains, despite the fact that more than 85% of buyers go to line to search for vehicles.
The study suggests that car buyers in India are eager to return to showrooms for their next vehicle purchase. “68% of respondents said they would like to complete the entire journey in person and only 20% said they would like the full online experience,” the study says. “The critical issue to be addressed here is the divergence of preference,” says Sandeep Pande, India Automotive Practice Manager at NielsenIQ. “Essentially, customers think on two levels. First, the willingness of dealers to switch smoothly between modes and, second, the robustness of technology integration to handle high-value purchases,” he adds.
As the pandemic continues its shifting waves, a shift from online to offline by dealerships is likely to lead customers to find a balance between the two modes of purchase. “At the end of the day, all customers want is if dealers are able to anticipate their needs and meet them accordingly.” Panda adds.
Despite the progress made by digitization in the pandemic, offline sources, such as peer recommendation and test drive a vehicle, remain strong sources of information about the process of selecting new vehicles, according to the study. Nonetheless, finding information available online remains a key aspect of the new vehicle buying journey for the Indian consumer. “48% of respondents said they had watched YouTube videos or used search engines to gather information online. More than a third (35%) said they have looked at social media ads as a source of online information,” the study adds.
Other findings from the study include that car buyers expect a quick response when they make an online request to be contacted again. “Currently, dealerships are taking an average of seven days to respond, while customer expectations are an average of five days. Additionally, around 11% of buyers said they had not heard from their dealer following an online enquiry,” the study states. He also finds that peer or family recommendation (61%) remains the top driver of dealership choice, followed by dealership location (54%) and immediate delivery (49%).
“These results show that buying a car in India is an emotional exercise in image building, and normally for an Indian family, buying a car is a historic moment that only happens 3 to 4 once in a lifetime. As people come out of the pandemic, they want to go to the dealerships for that purchase,” said FADA President Vinkesh Gulati. Fortune India.
He explains the benefits of visiting a dealership — test drive a vehicle; feel the touch of the interior of the car, are things that cannot be replaced by a virtual model. “For example, a customer drove the car and complained that the gear knob was uncomfortable in his grip, and bought another car. This is something that has no alternative – digital, virtual or whatever,” he adds. He believes that the digital measures adopted during the pandemic were additional palliative measures taken in the wake of the pandemic. “For the purchase of a vehicle, let’s say a customer visited the dealership 10 times.During the pandemic, these visits were reduced to 2-3 times as the customer used the facilities available online to check features, specs, models, but the visits remained. Even if they couldn’t come to the dealership, it was rather the dealership who came to them,” he says.