Even in the brave new digital world, consumers still see dealerships as ‘indispensable’

October 27, 2016

The rise of online car sales as well as ride-hailing apps, car sharing, and, ultimately, autonomous cars all threaten the existence of dealerships. The long-term thinking is that dealers will either transform into test drive and service centres, car sharing sites or will simply disappear. However, in a new survey of around 1,000 car buyers by market research firm Puls of Nuremberg, Germany, many consumers still expressed the opinion that car dealers ‘are indispensable.’ 

This was the view of 39% of respondents in the latest poll, compared to just 31% of those surveyed last year. Similarly, the share of respondents that envisage buying cars online fell from 38% to 32%. Moreover, for 57% of car buyers, visiting a dealership remains a ‘special experience’ and, rather intriguingly, this even rises to 60% among those under 30 years old. 

Whereas personal recommendations and the internet rank similarly as the best information sources, reasons cited for visiting a dealer include professional advice, the availability of particular models and the opportunity to test drive cars. However, professional advice could be offered online or over the phone directly by the OEMs. Furthermore, the availability of models, especially for test drives, even supports the view that the focus of dealerships could be more on offering test drives and servicing and less on selling. Consumers could then effect the purchase by taking advantage, as many already do, of the often more attractive discounts that are available online than at the dealership. 

Nevertheless, in the short to medium term, although OEMs are increasingly rolling out online sales portals, it is worth reiterating Citroën chief executive Linda Jackson’s recent comment that: ‘E-commerce is being rolled out in selected markets. Not everybody wants to buy a car online, but some do.’

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