James Tew, CEO of iVendi, said that while his company believed that a clicks-and-mortar model would remain the norm for almost all car dealers, the change of mindset represented an important cultural change.
He explained: ‘Franchise dealers especially are asked to spend huge sums of money on their retail premises but it is difficult to quantify the actual impact it has on sales and therefore justify the investment.
‘The truth is that, for most customers, their first contact with a dealer in 2016 is digital, whether through accessing the dealer’s web site directly, via a car portal or though another route.
‘As a result, we are seeing signs that more investment is being switched into ensuring that their digital proposition is as strong as possible. They know that this has become their real storefront to the world.’
Tew said the iVendi view was that the market would not move to an overall digital model, without physical dealerships, but that dealers would increasingly make it possible to undertake the entire customer journey online.
He added: ‘Our findings are that the vast majority of customers switch between digital and physical interactions with the dealership in a very natural manner. An e-mail might be followed by a phone call or a web search followed by a dealership visit.
‘However, we work with more and more dealers who want to effectively offer a complete online process for buying a car, so that customers can choose to use the online elements that they want.
‘It is here that the main investment is taking place, allowing components such as motor finance to be accessed online, which is our main area of expertise.’
He also said that dealers were also investing heavily in ensuring that their digital presence worked on the widest variety of devices possible.
He explained: ‘The situation is again quite fluid here, with customers expecting to be able to access the dealership on phone, tablet or PC. A dealer’s digital presence has to be effective on all of these.’