The New Way to Buy Cars Is Online: Here’s How to Put Your Customer in the Driver’s Seat

Evolve your online car-buying experience to drive revenue with these tips.


August 2021

6.5 Minute Read

Melis Unsal
Senior Product Marketing Manager, Salesforce

Car buying means something different to today’s consumers. For some, there’s a renewed comfort in owning a car. People are choosing their vehicles for everything from road trips to work commutes, especially as they prioritize safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. Others are shifting to alternative modes of transportation. They’re making an environmental and economical decision to use car-sharing services when they need to travel.

The car-buying process is different, too. Remember the days of visiting multiple dealerships to figure out your options? Fifty percent of car buyers now begin their journey online. They’re spending hours researching and absorbing content. Consider the 39% year-on-year increase in automotive watch time on YouTube in May 2020.

As car-buying behaviors and preferences continue to change, digital experiences matter more than ever. And while digital will never replace the experience of going to the dealer to get a feel for the car, it serves as a way to augment the process and create lifelong loyalty. Let’s look at the ways every automotive company can adapt to these changes and create omni-channel car-buying experiences that unlock growth.

Adapt to new online buying behaviors.

Seventy-nine percent of consumers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products or services. In the automotive industry, the customer experience encompasses everything from booking a test drive to making a purchase to bringing the car in for service — and extending those moments on digital channels.

79% of consumers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products or services.

State of the Connected Customer,” Salesforce Research, October 2020.

Get a complete view of your customer.

When you integrate commerce with your customer relationship management (CRM) platform, you can move from “VIN-centric” to “customer-centric” by using your customer data to personalize the car-buying process. This creates a 360-degree view that allows you to build personalized customer journeys across commerce, marketing, and service channels.

For example, you can target different demographic groups with personalized messaging – such as details on the safety features in a new SUV model targeted to young families. Or, you can streamline service interactions based on your commerce data. So, if a customer initiates an online chat with questions about one of your car models, they can also book a test drive at the nearest dealership within the same chat or receive service suggestions or reminders based on past order transactions.

Enhance the car-buying experience with your digital channels.

Once you have a complete view of your customer, use your digital channels as tools to build mindshare and improve customer relationships. Consider the following:

  • Omni-channel commerce experiences: Fifty-two percent of buyers use multiple devices as they are shopping. To reach shoppers online, most automotive companies have a website with a content management system (CMS). While a CMS provides a premium digital experience that is great for a bespoke, high-value, luxury item like a car, it lacks the functionality needed to drive conversion, reduce cart abandonment, and enable personalization. Automotive companies need engaging user experiences (UX) optimized for search as well as commerce capabilities that offer fast site speeds so customers can view cars and select add-ons and services.

But you can’t just stop there. To deliver an online car-buying experience that complements all of your in-person interactions, the key is to connect commerce, marketing, and service channels for a 360-degree view. This way, whether the journey is online or offline, the experience is consistent because you really know your customer.

From there, take your experience to the next level and use online engagement tools that further complement in-person experiences. For example, offer an online car configurator, provide on-demand access to schedule test drives or chat with a dealer, and give customers the ability to initiate the financing process all from a single platform.

Composable B2C Commerce Platform
Seamlessly integrate scalable commerce services like personalization, search, search engine optimization (SEO), marketing, and more into a purpose-built digital experience.
  • Guided selling: Create user flows based on the customer that makes shopping for a car easy, enjoyable, and engaging. If a customer is looking for a car model within a specific mile radius of their home, they can answer a few simple questions on your site to get a personalized recommendation. Or if a customer knows they want an SUV with all-wheel drive, but is unsure of the make or model, guided selling points them in the right direction.

Combined with artificial intelligence (AI), you can cross-sell and upsell complementary products and services. For example, if a customer is customizing a luxury crossover, AI can recommend warranty options that grow order size and complement the existing purchase. Or, if a customer is shopping for replacement tires, you can give them the ability to answer simple questions on your site, such as their car make and model. AI analyzes the data to provide the right recommendation for their car.

New Consumer Channels and Touchpoints
Commerce Cloud partner offerings easily integrate into modern consumer channels like 3D experiences, augmented reality (AR), live video shopping, clienteling, and more.
  • AI-powered merchandising: Product recommendations and predictive search use AI to surface relevant products or suggest items. AI analyzes your data to offer complementary products and services based on search behavior, preferences, and items customers typically buy together to increase order value. This may include parts add-ons or a subscription service such as satellite radio or emergency services..
Enable AI-Powered Commerce
Commerce Cloud Einstein AI ensures perfect product recommendations, easy and accurate product sorting, and relevant search results combined with a high-scale pricing and promotions engine.

Drive long-term customer value and engagement after the initial sale.

The customer experience no longer starts and ends with the transaction. Here’s how to improve long-term customer value and drive ongoing engagement:

  • Inventory visibility and fulfillment options: Match supply with demand in a dynamic way with full visibility of inventory. Remove ordered products from the inventory system and keep them in a dedicated section of your warehouse or dealership. Give customers the option to pick up their car from the dealer or select at-home delivery. Seamlessly fulfill orders with customized dealer views.
  • Digital customer support and servicing: Extend service across channels, including messaging apps. Use chatbots for customers to reach out with simple questions, like how to set up an in-car subscription service. Augment your site with intelligent assistants that can help customers with complexity. Empower customers to schedule everything from service appointments to tire exchanges through your customer portal.
  • Feedback loop: Add ratings and reviews to your digital experiences to provide authenticity in the car-buying process. Send an email survey post test drive or create a section on your site for customers to leave feedback about their experience. Be sure to ask additional questions — about product and service preferences — to improve your offerings.
Discover the B2C Commerce Solution for Automotive
Stand up a branded digital storefront quickly, design customer journeys just for automotive, and effortlessly manage time slots and capacity.

How a flexible commerce platform improves the online car-buying experience.

Automotive companies need a flexible, intelligent platform to meet changing customer needs. Solutions like Commerce Cloud help you drive revenue growth and customer satisfaction with the tools and features you need to meet expectations today.
Digitize fast.
Do you want to create a full custom experience or do you want to hit the ground running with an out-of-the-box ecommerce site that easily integrates with your existing digital platform? You can do either. Accelerate time to market with clicks, not code. Access modern developer tools, bespoke automotive features, and a robust partner ecosystem.
Use AI to reach the right audience.
Leverage native SEO so your pages rank to improve findability. Improve conversion rates with AI-powered merchandising, such as intelligent search and predictive sort. Today, most automotive shoppers abandon carts and sessions without leaving contact information. Retarget customers with abandoned mail and browse sessions emails.
Match supply with demand.
With Salesforce Order Management, you can get the right products to a customer’s doorstep or be prepared for local pickup in real time. This includes accessories and service offerings in addition to a new or used car itself. Connect the full customer journey across physical and digital touchpoints for a 360-degree view. Match what customers want with your inventory down to the location level. Understand and expose future inventory before you get it for unmatched service. Offer dealership pickup or home delivery for added convenience.
Grow revenue with a proven partner for success.
Join a community of Trailblazers that want to help one another succeed. Learn from dozens of Salesforce customers in the automotive space. Hear how they use ecommerce to grow sales and drive customer loyalty.
To stand up a digital storefront quickly, implement the B2C Commerce Solution for Automotive. It comes with prebuilt components to maximize customer convenience and give them the options they want.

Discover the B2C Commerce Solution for Automotive

Stand up a branded digital storefront quickly, design customer journeys just for automotive, and effortlessly manage time slots and capacity.


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