Is the customer buying journey really that simple?

A piece of research was published recently by Haymarket which sought to identify types of car buyers and the way in which they interact with the online environment. It claimed itself to be the first such study into the use of smartphones, tablets and laptops, and whilst we could argue that this really isn’t the case, it isn’t the main point of contention. Indeed, the message of the research – that the motor industry needs to create a cross-device, seamless experience – is extremely apt.

No; the main contention is the generalisation and simplification of the consumer buying journey.

We all want to put our customers into categories. In the supermarket of commerce it’s far more convenient to pretend that every customer follows the aisles as we expect them to. And then that there are no unexpected items in the bagging area. It means that marketing messages and branding can be viewed like an XL onesie: One size fits all. The problem with a one size fits all approach like this is that whilst yes, it does fit all, it’s certainly not going to suit most people.

The piece of research in question (Connected Digital Ethnography) makes some very good points and it demonstrates three top-level types of car buyer and the cross-device journey consumers now undertake. However, there are some fundamental flaws. It’s not wrong – it’s just that it’s too simple and, most importantly, it neglects the franchise model the industry has. The real picture is, unfortunately, far more complicated.

Firstly, the types of consumer identified:

  • Hiker – The research identified that, “…hikers prefer the long-distance, but reliable, mode of the laptop or PC for more serious car research.”
  • Stroller – Strollers were identified as, “…more likely to view emotive information, such as videos, on a tablet so that they can share the process with friends or family before finalising their choice.”
  • Sprinter – According to the research, “sprinters like the more immediate, spontaneous possibilities offered by their smartphones. They often use mobiles to research cars during ‘dead’ time such as the daily commute.”

Whilst the research did acknowledge that many consumers’ research was very much ‘omnichannel’, the above broad brushstrokes give a false idea of how consumers actually access information. In our experience, every consumer has an element of hiker, stroller and sprinter in them. The core part of their device choice was identified as being based on convenience. In GForces experience this is absolutely true; we know that during the day, desktop access dominates, but come the evening smartphones and tablets take over as people ‘media stack’ in front of the TV.

It’s far more useful for brands and dealers to accept that every consumer is using an omnichannel approach and simply ensure that they are up to the challenge.

Perhaps the biggest issue with the research is the way in which it visualises the customer journey. At no point is the role of the retailer included except for purchase. In reality, motor retailer websites are a major touch-point. Almost a quarter of buyers will visit ten or more dealer websites – the average being around five dealer websites (Gfk research, Oct 2014) whilst these websites are the biggest influencing factor online, according to Google. The Haymarket research identifies 18 touch-points across on- and offline media. Google, on the other hand, notes that consumers will digest an average of 24 different media sources across digital alone.

Perhaps what this shows is that the brand experience between manufacturer and retailer remains fundamentally disjointed. For consumers, the franchise setup is an arbitrary arrangement that they often don’t appreciate. The retailer is the manufacturer to them. As a result, the misalignment between manufacturer and dealer digital assets can be off-putting which is why GForces pushes so hard to create the tools that will result in the seamless experience.

The reality of the customer journey is far, far more complex than that displayed in the ‘Connected Digital Ethnography Report’. The mingling of people, technology and the physical world is unique to each individual and this message is hugely important for the automotive industry to grapple with in order to prosper long-term. We know the general direction consumers are going in, but how they get there isn’t formulaic.

Whilst we don’t actually disagree with any of the research undertaken by Haymarket, the advice we would give is that the whole buying process, and the consumers engaged within it, should be viewed as a complex environment. It’s not an insurmountable problem; as tools and services become more joined up, so the streamlined customer experience and journey will emerge as a more solid thing.

Until then, it’s probably best to accept that whilst car buyers are essentially on the same path, they will sometimes hike, they will sometimes stroll and the will also sprint. It’s also likely that they will deviate from the main route pretty regularly. The best bet is to make sure that you are doing your best to cater for this unpredictable journey.

About GForces

GForces is Europe’s leading provider of digital solutions to the automotive industry. Working with more of the UK Top 200 dealer groups, more OEMs and more international businesses than any rival, we help our clients navigate and maximise their online presence across mobile and desktop platforms.
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Author: GForces (634 Articles)

GForces is Europe’s leading provider of digital solutions to the automotive industry. Working with more of the UK Top 200 dealer groups, more OEMs and more international businesses than any rival, we help our clients navigate and maximise their online presence across mobile and desktop platforms.