There’s no question that online’s overthrow of traditional car buying has been swift, surprising, and in some ways vicious. It’s not showing any signs of slowing down, either, and in fact a recent announcement from BMW’s Global Chief of Sales and Marketing Ian Robertson suggests that the real revolution still lies ahead—like, immediately ahead.
“Digitisation over the next five years will be more than we’ve seen in the past 100 years—and it’ll affect the way we sell and the way we make our cars.” And BMW isn’t waiting for anyone else to lead the charge. Robertson’s prognostication was made during the announcement of the German luxury automaker’s new online-only buying program, going live first in the UK and rolling out to other markets shortly thereafter. Car buyers will interact solely with a corporate-controlled website—with optional assistance from a BMW-educated salary-only team of call center agents—from vehicle selection through financing.
Dealerships won’t play any role in the process until it comes time to deliver the car, and then it simply comes down to who can get the right model with the right specs at the right distance and in the shortest time.
If there is a clearer way to signal that online car buying and digitization had swung the balance of power far in favor of the consumer, it’s hard to imagine what it might be. Starting with four basic questions and using purchase and satisfaction data from previous BMW buyers, BMW’s online sales website helps consumers winnow down the entire fleet of available models to the BMW that’s a perfect fit for their needs (with a few alternatives just in case). A similar process is used to streamline the configuration of more than a hundred vehicle specs, allowing buyers to go from initial site visit to a customized luxury car in ten minutes or less.
A full financing plan, again tailored to each buyer’s individual circumstance, takes even less time to complete, and the full deal is then transferred to the dealership that can most quickly meet the terms of the sale. There’s nothing left to negotiate, and little left to upsell—for car buyers who use this system, the dealership has become little more than part of an order fulfillment network.
BMW dealerships who don’t shift their dealership specific customer acquisition efforts into high gear are going to struggle to retain top sales talent and respectable revenues.
Trying to resist the digitization and online pressures in automotive sales is like trying to hold back the tide: you can plant your feet and stand firmly where you are with your head held high, but you’ll still end up underwater—and it’s pretty hard to breathe down there. You’re better off fighting fire with fire, taking full advantage of your dealership’s digitization capabilities and offering a comprehensive online sales platform of your own before corporate starts to capture your consumers. Take a page out of BMW’s manual and put yourself at the forefront of the Digital Revolution—there’s plenty of help available, and the time is now.