Is e-commerce the key to Hyundai’s fightback against 'Uberisation'?


For all the fearful talk of what the ‘Uberisation’ of driving means for the future of traditional car manufacturers, there will always be a swathe of the population outside of cities that will need to own a car. And Hyundai recently put a sizeable bet that those wanting to do so will buy online.

Despite others – like BMW – launching similar e-commerce propositions, Hyundai has claimed a UK first for a site that allows people to browse, customise, trade in old cars and agree financing (rather than having to buy a car outright).

It’s been a move three years in the making after the car marque opened two digital only showrooms in London that proved to be a test bed for exactly what people want when they’re looking online for a car. In the first year, over one thousand cars were sold from a single digital showroom but more importantly, Hyundai found that half of those who visited the showroom went on to complete the purchase online at home.

“We know there are customers looking for the simplest, easiest way to purchase a vehicle and they don’t like the current process. They want complete control and transparency to do everything their own way,” David Pugh, marketing director at Hyundai told The Drum.

“But it doesn’t replace the current dealership experience. Our expectation is that people will still want test drives and to experience the product. But some people will want to do the decision piece in their own time at home. Click-to-buy gives them that choice. We know people want this and it’s the right thing to give it to them.”

Created by Collective London, the e-commerce option opened last week and within hours became Hyundai’s most popular website. Three days later it made its first sale online, something Pugh thought would take much longer given the size of the purchase.

However, it’s his view that with the financing options Hyundai has made available online people have stopped seeing buying a car as a high-value and considered purchase – instead it’s something more akin to getting a new phone contract.

“With the modern routes to market in terms of financing, people are increasingly comfortable thinking of a car in terms of “pounds per month” rather than £15,000.”

This in turn has opened up a new wave of customers to the brand. The average age of a car buyer in the UK is 52-years-old but through its digital showrooms, Hyundai has seen that age drop to 39, while 51% of that subset are now female.

But facing the immediate future, Pugh is doubtful that e-commerce will suddenly become the channel of choice for car buyers. Rather, he sees the system as something which will improve the in-showroom experience and help sales staff guide customers through the purchase. The pressure of haggling will be removed and people will have a much clearer view on what the finance options are.

This is also why the site is lacking one major facility – the option to order a test drive. In the US, Hyundai had partnered with Amazon to allow people to “instantly” order a test-drive via Prime. But what it found was that more people still prefer to arrange a test by phone.

“From analysing search activity, when people search and a link appears to ‘click-to-book a test drive’ or to ‘phone the dealer directly’ only every one in four choose to book online," explained Pugh.

That’s not to say it won’t be added as an online option eventually but for the time being, the Hyundai team are looking at all of the incremental opportunities before committing to an investment in its expansion.

For now, it’s down to the marketing team to drive awareness that people can now buy a car online. A TV campaign from Innocean recently launched around the idea of using an oversized cardboard delivery box as the “obvious visual metaphor” for online shopping.

The film shows a mix of different types of people and a variety of locations around the UK; everything from quiet suburban streets and blocks of flats to isolated farmhouses in dramatic locations. As the camera turns to each of these locations the viewer is shown a huge cardboard box. The box is always ‘parked’ in a place you would expect to see a real car, but it is not until the end of the commercial, when a box is finally opened, that a part of a Hyundai is revealed.

“We spent a lot of time talking to consumers about the purchase experience over the net and what we discovered is that the bit customers like is the thing they have purchased arriving. It’s that moment of excitement that customers like,” said Pugh.

“The box is a metaphor for ‘bought online’ and feature extensively across the campaign.”

Spend has gone mainly on TV but will be supported by digital out of home and display. It will run until mid-February before a follow-up is launched.

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