Covid-19 fear: Carmakers change track to online sales, contactless delivery

Close to 54 per cent respondents from India—the highest among the countries surveyed, in Deloitte Global State of the Consumer Tracker survey said “If available, I will buy my next vehicle online
A car e-delivered to customers who can’t drive because of the lockdown to contain the coronavirus. The pitch looks unfeasible but that is not dissuading automakers desperate to get business back.   

Amid shuttered dealerships and deserted roads, leading car brands including Mercedes Benz, Honda Cars, Volkswagen, and BMW have started dedicated online portals and embarked on digitalisation of consumer touch-points.  

To be sure, the sales push is also being prompted by the likely emergence of a new order in the post Covid-19 world where personal mobility and contactless transaction is set to take precedence as people develop an aversion for high contact points and public transport.

Close to 54 per cent respondents from India—the highest among the countries surveyed, in Deloitte Global State of the Consumer Tracker survey said “If available, I will buy my next vehicle online. The survey conducted between April 15-17, sampled 13 countries including China, United States, UK, Canada, Japan, among others. Also, an astounding 81 per cent respondents from India --- second highest after 82 per cent in Italy, said “the importance of owning a vehicle is valuable to me.” 

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It is therefore, not surprising that auto makers want to make the most of the opportunity. On Monday, luxury car market leader, Mercedes, announced host of new customer initiatives under the campaign ‘Merc from Home,’ which focuses on the ease of purchase of a vehicle using digital tools to facilitate the entire process including online payment of products and services.

Most companies said the online interface will be backed by robust backend operations that include preparation of cars to the documentation process, which will be executed in the most transparent manner. All outlets of the aforementioned brands across India will be connected to the e-commerce portal to support the customers through their online shopping process.

“Digital platforms have become an important channel to stay connected with our customers. Towards this we are launching our ‘Merc from Home’ campaign that aims at providing a holistic, hassle-free and highly personalized car buying experience on our online sales platform,” said Martin Schwenk, MD & CEO, Mercedes-Benz India.

Mercedes’ arch-rival, BMW too said it has commenced an initiative on 2 April that enables a “unique contactless experience” for its customers in India.  Others too are no longer waiting for the lockdown to get over. Honda Cars India announced its ‘Honda from Home’ online booking platform through its corporate website.  “This platform is part of Honda’s digitalization efforts in car retail experience that not only drives convenience but also efficiency,” said Rajesh Goel, Senior Vice President and Director, Sales and Marketing, Honda Cars India.

Steffen Knapp, Director, Volkswagen Passenger Cars India said, with the launch of  its simple, secure and user-friendly online retail platform,  it  is “pushing the boundaries of end-to-end retail sales” and strengthening its commitment to customers. “We aim to provide our customers the flexibility in choosing their preferred Volkswagen product through a contactless channel.”

“The trend of e-commerce platforms for end-to-end online car purchase is likely to find more acceptance among Indian customers, given higher convenience, ” according to the Deloitte Survey cited earlier. The current crisis, it pointed out makes it inevitable for companies to have a more targeted, funneled approach to customers.

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