ABeam Thailand unveiled customer behavior changes in car buying behavior

ABeam Consulting (Thailand) Ltd. revealed the result of their “Car Buying Behavior Study” in 2021 for the Thai market comparing it to the same study done in 2019. The COVID-19 pandemic has influenced customer touchpoints to shift more from face-to-face to digital with 40% of buyers interested in completing their next car buying fully digital.

 

Top 3 key channels to get information after COVID-19 have changed from traditional channels e.g., families and friends as well as mall-displays or motor shows to digital channels such as Google search, social media, and third-party websites, while only sales staff remained as the No.1 most useful channel to get information. To stay competitive, automobile brands are urged to improve their touchpoints along the customer journey – through Awareness, Interest, Consideration, Purchase and After-sales stages— and consider including dealers to fit into the end-to-end value chain for a brand’s local presence.  The most important aspects include availability of a Digital Customer Journey, Data Collection & Intelligence Generation, and Data Flow & Interconnectivity in order to compete in today’s digital climate and gain market share over other players in the market.  To enhance customer interaction and collect data more effectively, ABeam introduced ABeam DRIVE --a supplement to pre-existing dealer management systems.

 

Ichiro Hara, Managing Director of ABeam Consulting (Thailand) Ltd. a global consulting company headquartered in Japan that specializes in digital transformation, revealed that ABeam Thailand has conducted Car Buying Behavior studies in 2019 and 2021 for the Thai market focusing on understanding the overall end-to-end customer journey from the awareness to the retention stage, for before and after COVID-19 consumer behaviors. The studies also examined major trends and behavioral purchase patterns as well as verified whether COVID-19 has changed the way car buyers make purchasing decisions.

 

The findings were consistent in that the quality of goods, services, and customer interactions are key to becoming a sought-after brand. 93% of Thai car buyers did not change their decision on the brand they wanted during the COVID-19 situation, only 7% purchased a less expensive brand or model.  When it comes to buying a car, there are 3 stages leading to a purchase including Awareness, Interest, and Consideration.  Following the Purchase, after-sales is an important area that if done correctly can boost customer loyalty for the specific brand and lead to further purchases. Though companies have been aware of these stages, there is now an increasing number of expectations towards digital touchpoints involved in the end-to-end journey.

 

According to the study, 15.3% of survey respondents made their final decisions on which brand to buy before doing any research or visiting dealers; therefore brands must ensure awareness of their brands is always at potential customers’ top of mind through effective usage of digital touchpoints such as social media, using collected data to target unique groups of proper prospects to become interested in their products at the right time and lead them to the next stage. 

 

After having awareness of a brand, consumers enter the Interest Stage and according to the study, 25.7% of respondents decided on which brand to buy at this stage, even before visiting a showroom for the first time.  When asked for the preferred method of gathering information during the Interest Stage, the result shows that more than half of all car buyers prefer to do research via digital channels such as Google and social media and the percentage of car buyers who either already use or prefer to use digital channels in the future was the highest for the luxury car segment. To build a smooth customer experience, brands should have an automated data-driven acquisition process to determine where in the journey a customer is at any given time and to further interact with them by providing the most fitting content for the profile of the individual prospect.

 

After gaining brand awareness and interest in buying, customers reach the Consideration Stage.  In Thailand, the showroom is still the heart of the customer experience to take a closer look at vehicles and get information as well as advice from sales staff.  ABeam found that 59% of respondents chose a brand and a car model that fit them best for their purchase at this stage.  Out of the customers who decided to buy a car at this stage, 31% of the respondents committed to a brand directly at the showroom before taking a test drive, 33% decided after doing a test drive, and 37% decided after leaving the showroom. The majority of car buyers visited the showroom 2-3 times before purchasing a vehicle, with 84% doing so in 2019 and 79% in 2021, showing that despite COVID-19, this kind of behavior has not changed in any significant way.

 

The top 3 most useful channels to get information after COVID-19 has changed from traditional channels e.g., families and friends as well as mall-displays or motor shows to digital channels such as Google search, social media, and third-party websites while interactions with sales staff have proven to be the most useful means for obtaining information before, as well as after the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

At the Consideration Stage, dealer visits along with sales staff interactions are important in influencing a car purchasing decision; therefore, dealers must be given tools that can further enhance and smoothen the customer experience with the brand.  Many automobile manufacturers in Thailand have adjusted accordingly; for example, by creating brand websites that allow customers to schedule visits with dealers or book test drives. Traditional displays and face-to-face interactions are not enough; brands need to collect data in order to determine what customers want and prioritize them accordingly.  By analyzing collected data from different dealerships and interactions with their customers, brands can use big data analysis to map the most effective interactions, to spread best practices and avoid low-performing practices throughout the entire dealer network.

 

After customers pass through the Awareness, Interest and Consideration Stages, if they are satisfied with the product, price and offered service, they will move on to the Purchase Stage. According to ABeam’s Research 2019, cash was the most commonly used method for down payments for the vehicles currently owned by the respondents.  Apart from regular cash payments, respondents chose online bank transfers as the most attractive down payment method for their future car, with 75% citing interest, and 72 % selecting debit and credit cards. PromptPay came in fourth place. Thus, automobile brands are encouraged to build additional online payment channels into their customer journeys to satisfy this emerging group of interested prospects. Brands can respond to this new e-commerce trend by enabling customers to at least do parts of the car-buying process online such as vehicle booking, down payment or loan services.

 

With these services available online, brands can identify easily if customers are nearing or already at the Purchase Stage to buy a car.  Customers’ data can be shared with local dealers in the customers’ area and a salesperson can be assigned to assist them proactively from the beginning of the purchasing process until the car is delivered. For a full implementation though, outside of the technical capabilities of individual brands, the operational aspect of how to include dealers efficiently into the entire process needs to be defined and well thought through. While most profits come from the after-sales side, new car sales are still the major revenue generator for dealers, brands are recommended to provide everything digitally, but to consider how dealers can fit into the end-to-end value chain to not lessen a brand’s local presence.

 

After-service check-ups following the purchase are now the key touchpoints between the brand and the customer through dealers. According to the 2019 survey results, loyal customers who own vehicles of a single brand value the overall experience with the brand more than other groups of customers and are also 34% more likely to stay with the same brand due to those experiences. But all groups agreed that the after-sales service experience was the most impactful reason for their decision to stay with a brand or to change it.  Digital touchpoints play an important role to improve the after-sales service experience through online service bookings, notifications on car checkups, repairs, and insurance extensions. ABeam found that around 70% of luxury car buyers prefer to do activities related to after-sales services such as booking for after-sales service and buying car insurance online.

 

“In order to compete in today’s digital climate and gain market share over other players, ABeam sees having a digital Customer Journey offering, being able to collect data, generate intelligence, allowing for data to flow and promoting system interconnectivity as the most important aspects. Besides the preference of customers to have the option to conclude parts or even the entire journey digitally, it also benefits brands by automatically feeding its data collection & intelligence generation, simply based on its digital nature.

 

However, there are not many companies that use those tools’ capabilities to their full effect, which are to define triggers, content coordination and more in order to reach customers at the right time with the right message at the earliest stage based on the data collected. Another challenge is to collect data from dealers without increasing the workload of their operational staff.  We believe that tools need to provide value to their users while collecting data effortlessly. Obstacles that ABeam has observed as well are companies’ lack of infrastructure and capability to analyze the data they collect. This is further exacerbated due to the lack of a common platform or approach, leading to many departments building their own plan for data analysis and creating silos to benefit their individual areas, highlighting the last success factor for an effective Customer Journey; allowing for data to flow & promoting system interconnectivity. In today’s digital age, brands should break down silos and incentivize cooperation across departments to supply each touchpoint with valuable data. Making sure a customer is handed over from one touchpoint to the next in a smooth and controlled manner. All tools and processes highlighted across the stages of the customer journey should be connected and benefit each other to continuously improve the experience,” explained Hara.