As soon as possible. As simple as possible. Around the clock if possible. The digital vehicle business is gaining in importance – this is particularly visible during corona times. Examples from Sweden and the Netherlands.
Eleven o’clock in the evening. The day is almost over. Now just order the new car quickly. What would have been unthinkable a few years ago is becoming increasingly popular with customers in Sweden. Four out of ten private customers there opt for leasing offers – and a growing number are signing the contract online, outside normal business hours. It is quite possible that many of them will be sitting on the sofa – they have the option at least. “Three-quarters of all requests come from smartphones or tablets,” says Ruben Svartholm, the project manager in charge at Volkswagen Sweden. Interested parties can reach their goal in three simple steps: Select a car. Select a dealership. Confirm. That’s it.
Volkswagen launched the digital sales platform in Sweden as early as 2016, winning many motorists. Nine out of ten online customers are new to Volkswagen. Digital business is proving particularly successful during the corona pandemic. While the market as a whole is experiencing sharp declines, online contracts are almost at prior-year levels. “72 percent of online customers complete the contract without visiting the dealership,” says Svartholm. Many dealers deliver the new vehicle right to the customer’s doorstep on request.
The basis for success is familiarity with digital applications: 92 percent of all Swedes own a smartphone, and almost the entire population uses the Internet. Online ordering is however especially popular among young drivers. “The greatest interest comes from customers under 30,” says Svartholm.
Sweden is not an isolated case – the digital car business is also gaining importance in other European markets. Take the example of the Netherlands: just a few days ago, the importer, PON, launched an online direct sales platform for the private leasing of SEAT models. The pilot project was already planned before the corona outbreak – now it is hitting home. “In the first week of soft-launching this concept, we sold five cars,” reports Jan-Pieter van Hemert, Head of Digital Development at PON. “This is promising for the months ahead where we will push for more attention for this new concept.”
At the heart of the platform is a clear and fast ordering process. Options are limited to popular variants. “Leasing customers are primarily looking for a convincing mobility product that they can put together quickly and get within days,” says van Hemert. The bank inquiries are paperless. Insurance and maintenance are also included in the monthly rate. “If the model proves successful, we will include other Group brands,” says van Hemert.
The digital developers at PON have also simplified the sale of used cars in recent weeks: Car owners only need to upload vehicle data, including photos, and promptly receive an offer from an authorized dealer. “The response time is within half an hour,” says van Hemert.
Back to Ruben Svartholm in Sweden. Four years after the launch of the online platform, a new role responsibility has been established. While car dealer sales representatives now act primarily as consultants, the leasing contracts are concluded with Volkswagen Financial Services, the financial services provider within the Volkswagen Group. The advantage: customers receive only one invoice per month for leasing installments, service agreement and insurance. The model is also beneficial for car dealerships, as many new customer contacts lead to follow-up orders. “The Volkswagen dealers support the online platform 100 percent. Everybody is taking part,” says Svartholm. This also applies to Audi, ŠKODA, and SEAT.
The dealers only get to know a large proportion of their new online customers in person after the contract has been signed – only one in eight attach importance to a test drive. But how is it that so few Swedes want to test their new vehicle before ordering? Ruben Svartholm has an answer: “Our models are very well known in Sweden. Almost everyone has driven them at least once. People know what a Volkswagen feels like.”
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