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Dealers, carmakers must know their customers in order to grow: study

November 18, 2010
Automobile consumers demonstrate needs, wants and preferences that are not always met by the industry. As a result, manufacturers and dealers are missing important opportunities to improve sales, profitability, and even customer relationships and loyalty, according to the sixth annual Cars Online study. The global study revealed growth opportunities in areas such as marketing, Internet capabilities and after-sales servicing. For instance, as consumers move in market for a vehicle, they are more likely to respond to targeted directmail offers, a growing but still under-used marketing tool in the industry. A strong Web strategy and execution also can affect buying decisions. One in two consumers said that having the Web features they consider most important-price and product information, cost calculators and vehicle configurators- would make them more likely to buy from a particular car manufacturer. The research identified some key changes in the automotive buying cycle. For instance, although consumers may move into the market for a new vehicle up to 12 months before they purchase, they do not necessarily begin the research process until closer to the actual time of purchase. And they often don't "activate" (i.e. focus on specific terms) until one to three months before their purchase. It is then that the role of marketing becomes critical for automakers to ensure that their vehicles are on the consumer's consideration list. The study, which surveyed consumers, dealers and manufacturers in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France, Germany, Sweden, Italy and China, compared consumers' actual needs, demands and preferences with dealers' and vehicle manufacturers' perceptions of them. The survey's report focused on consumer behaviour, sales lead management, use of the internet, and after-sales servicing. Among the key findings: • Brand loyalty surpasses dealer loyalty. More than half of consumers say they are likely to purchase or lease the same brand of vehicle that they currently own, while about 40 percent will buy from the same dealer. • What consumers really want from a dealer Web site is the ability to accomplish specific tasks, not endulge in cool features and zippy graphics. • After sales/servicing represents an important opportunity to gain repeat customers and build brand loyalty. • The automotive consumer base is increasingly segmented, with groups such as "utilitarian" and "trendy" buyers demonstrating different buying behavior.