Don’t forget the first rule of marketing…

Ford is to begin selling its new cars online. This announcement met with predictable scepticism by the many dinosaurs in the motor trade, but I fear it is they who’ll be heading for the scrapyard if they refuse to move with the times.

Some contend that people still like to sit in the car at a dealership and deal with a real person before making a purchase. Consumers have always done it this way and always will, they say. But they assume that customers enjoy the existing purchase process and consider it to add value.

Whereas I think they are forgetting the first rule of marketing which is to segment your customer base and tailor your offering to them. I refuse to believe that 100% of people wishing to buy a car will follow the traditional purchasing method in the future. There will be some (I suspect more than some) for whom avoiding the dealership will be a driving factor in them actually buying a new car.

I am one of these people. Having bought a car recently, I conducted all of my research online – using the latest customisation tools was fun and there speaks someone for whom automobiles are not a gripping topic. By the end of my online research, I knew exactly what I wanted and exactly what it would cost (at list price, anyway).

I have used a similar car before so I wasn’t particularly bothered about test-driving it. If I could have made a purchase then and there, I would have done, particularly if I were able to buy direct and have the new vehicle delivered to my door.

Buying a car at a dealership takes too long and most of the process is not about the car but about finance

Instead, I had to visit the dealership to complete the purchase. The ecommerce community talks about the ability to lose customers through the payment process. If it is too clunky, people tend to walk away at the vital moment. Dealerships would do well to conduct a similar analysis and streamlining of their own processes. Buying a car at a dealership takes too long and most of the process is not about the car, but about painful finance selling.

John Lewis, that most conservative of middle England retailers, this week announced that 15% of its revenues are now made online. Despite our doubts, most things can be successfully sold on the web. There is hope for car dealers. Those who build the web seamlessly into their offering will undoubtedly prosper. Those who continue to live in denial and stick rigidly to the historical model will themselves become part of history.

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