The pandemic has prompted dealers to accelerate their digital strategies according to Philip Nothard, Insight and Strategy Director for Cox Automotive in the second issue of AutoFocus, the company’s new quarterly report detailing the automotive market landscape.

Commenting on Q3 market performance and trends in 2021, Nothard said: "An increasing number of consumers start their search for their next car online. However, despite several well-publicised online used car businesses appearing in the last three years, only a small fraction of all cars sold are purchased entirely online.

"To repeat a well-known phrase, 'cars are the second-largest purchase after a house' – and we are still seeing evidence that most consumers want to physically view, test drive and feel reassured before signing on the dotted line on their next car purchase."

Within the report, Cox Automotive publishes findings from Sue Robinson, Chief Executive of the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA).

Robinson commented: "Recent industry insights and the decline in new car sales while dealerships were shut show that physical showrooms continue to play a vital role in the car buying process.

"Potential buyers place huge value on their interaction with retailers as they look for advice and reassurance, especially when they're considering buying a vehicle, they may not be fully familiar with. In addition, most consumers want to see, touch, and test drive the car they are going to buy."

Benefits of dealers introducing seamless online and physical car sales

Many motor traders adopted the digital sales mechanism known as 'click-and-collect during enforced lockdowns. It enabled them to adapt to the challenging conditions when non-essential retailers could not trade – giving them a way to keep their business operating, follow social distancing requirements and offer consumers the ability to purchase vehicles safely.

The NFDA refers to a study from early 2021 by AM-Online, showing 76.3% of franchised dealers had adopted a complete end-to-end online retail offering, with 81.6% using live vehicle video tours and 72% utilising home deliveries.

Robinson added: "The outcome of this is increasingly vital: a seamless combination of a robust digital strategy and a physical dealership presence that meets consumer needs.

"This allows dealers to serve with equal success and efficiency all customers – including those who are more confident with a large part of their buying process taking place online, as well as those who would rather base their decision primarily on their visits to the showroom."

Although consumers couldn't always test drive and buy cars in the traditional way when non-essential retailers were closed, they could visit the showroom for aftersales care, with social distancing regulations adjusting processes to keep staff and customers safe. This enabled dealers to continue building customer loyalty and satisfaction scores.

Robinson added: "Retailers' resilience and ability to adapt quickly has proved crucial over the past months and will remain essential over the coming years."

Nothard concluded: "Dealers looking to embrace digitisation need to look no further than the product brands offered by Cox Automotive, which are part of our digital strategy and offer many solutions. So, whether you're looking to buy or sell stock online through Manheim Auction Services, or arrange finance for stock through NextGear Capital, arrange movement of stock through Movex, create your dealer's digital journey through Codeweavers, or just make part exchanges easier for both staff and consumers through eVA Valuations & Appraisals, we have all the essential tools at your disposal."