Ahead of PSFK's Automotive CX Briefing event this Thursday April 18, Senior Strategist Penn Whaling shares a preview of insights the discussion will offer on innovation in car buying and owning experiences for a DTC landscape and digital-first consumer base

New consumer expectations and behaviors set by digital-first brands have prompted car manufacturers and dealers to rethink automotive retail business models in order to ensure consistency across all touchpoints and channels, as well as offer more flexible solutions and guidance to mitigate some of the major pain points associated with this important purchase. To explore how auto retailers are accordingly embracing DTC strategies and catering to digital-first consumers amidst a bustling sharing economy, PSFK conducted in-depth research culminating in our Automotive CX Debrief, the findings from which PSFK experts will present at the Automotive CX Briefing on Thursday, April 18.

Ahead of the event, Senior Strategist Penn Whaling shares key insights that attendees of the briefing will have the chance to explore further through presentations, discussions and ideation sessions, covering critical elements of the automotive customer experience like dynamic outreach, digital sales tools, all-inclusive subscriptions, incentivized ownership, service ecosystems and more:

PSFK: What are some of the biggest challenges—and opportunities for innovation—facing today's automotive retailers?

Penn Whaling: The biggest challenge facing automotive retailers is an entrenched business model, which has remained relatively unchanged for nearly a century for a number of reasons. Retailers in other sectors, especially ecommerce, have been rapidly innovating and raising the bar when it comes to speed and convenience, so the process of purchasing a car can seem slow, confusing and opaque by comparison.

There’s not a consistent experience between browsing vehicles on an OEM’s website and visiting a dealership, the lack of price transparency makes it difficult for consumers to comparison shop and the paperwork takes forever—not to mention the fact that buying a car is a long-term commitment!

However, all of these challenges can also be seen as exciting opportunities for automotive retailers to rethink the end-to-end experience, offering value and convenience at every stage. Consumers have shown that they’re willing to embrace a new model.

How are auto retailers addressing these points by leveraging tactics from DTC brands in order to meet consumer expectations for digital-first experience?

What DTC brands do well is creating a seamless, consistent and customer-centric experience at every touchpoint in the customer journey, which allows them to own the relationship and cultivate long-term loyalty.

While buying a car is obviously a much different purchase than, say, buying a pair of shoes online, we are starting to see auto retailers embracing some of the tactics of these DTC brands, using digital tools to create a more frictionless experience.

They’re engaging car buyers on social media. They’re using new digital tools, such as visual search and AI, to help guide buyers through the complex process of selecting and purchasing a car. They’re empowering consumers to purchase cars online and have vehicles delivered directly to their door, bypassing the dealership altogether. They’re rethinking the post-purchase relationship through related services and ongoing support. And they’re even thinking beyond vehicle ownership to access with vehicle subscription services that add the flexibility that consumers desire now.

Could you give an example of an automotive retailer that is enabling car purchasing and owning experiences in line with the behavior and preferences of today’s consumers?

One company that has been at the forefront of DTC automotive retail is Carvana, which has created an online self-service car-buying platform that enables used-car buyers to conduct the process entirely online and have a vehicle delivered to their front door as soon as the next day. What used to take hours at the dealership can now be done in minutes online, meeting consumers’ desire for speed and convenience. They’re even implementing fully automated car vending machines in certain markets, where shoppers can choose to retrieve their purchases, which turns a car purchase into a fun event that buyers will want to share with family and friends on social media.

What are some of the topics that attendees of our Automotive CX Briefing can expect to discuss and gain insight on?

The briefing will cover the ways in which automotive retailers are leveraging DTC tactics at every stage of the customer journey, from engaging with car buyers on social media, to using digital tools to guide them through a complex process to help them find the right vehicle for their individual needs, to rethinking the ownership model itself, to building ongoing loyalty post purchase through related services and support.

We hope that retailers from any sector will be able to walk away with some interesting lessons from how this legacy industry is reinventing itself and some insights they can apply to their own work.

This was just a preview—for more insights and in-depth research, attend PSFK's Automotive CX Briefing event, where PSFK researchers will draw from our recent Automotive CX Debrief report to present findings on innovation across all stages of the automotive retail experience. The event will consist of an informative presentation from PSFK experts, ideation session and lively discussion between attendees—tickets available now!