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Has the pandemic changed us? – implications for Motor Industry


Patrick Gallen

Partner, People and Change Consulting at Grant Thornton Ireland.

The COVID-19 global pandemic completely disrupted life as we knew it. We were forced to adapt and alter our normal lifestyles. Restrictions kept many people confined within the walls of their homes and within their local area. With this, the need for a car decreased and, due to restrictions, car showrooms were deemed non-essential retail. and had to close.

Working From Home

COVID-19 also prompted the national response of working from home (WFH). Many individuals are comfortable continuing to work in this manner. According to a report conducted by NUIG, 95% were in favour of working remotely on an ongoing basis to some extent.

We have seen various trends over the course of the last few months, with one future model becoming the preference for a majority of organisations: the hybrid model. The hybrid model offers employees more freedom around where and when they work, it offers a mix of working in remote and office locations across a week. Within this model, we’ll see the continued eradication of the traditional nine-to-five that COVID-19 drove, with organisations offering employees increased flexibility.

We have also seen the pattern of two to three days per week in the office emerging as the ‘sweet spot’, although employees are seeking rationale for attendance. According to a report by Microsoft in 2021, 66% of businesses stated they were redesigning office spaces to accommodate for the hybrid model.

The shift to remote work has had many implications for individuals. One positive implication that many individuals have stated is the time and money saved from commuting in and out of work. According to a survey conducted in 2020 by Science Foundation Ireland, 6% of Irish people stated the old way of working was not worth the commute.

Challenges and opportunities

Mobility behaviour has changed dramatically as many commuters are spending more time at home. Typical motor trade customers are travelling into work less and this has had both positive and negative implications for the Motor Industry.

A survey conducted by McKinsey in 2020, at an earlier stage of the pandemic, indicated that when it came to purchasing cars, purchase intent was 14% below pre-COVID-19 levels. As consumers were spending less time in their vehicles their mentality and purchase behaviour changed, leading them to spend their money within their home environment rather than on their transport. Along with this, many individuals developed new travel habits such as walking and cycling, which also reduced their need to spend on changing their car.

However, it has become evident that the switch to remote work has also had positive implications. As individuals have saved money due to the lack of travel costs, they have more disposable income to spend on purchasing a car. The money saved due to the lack of commute to work has provided individuals with an opportunity to upgrade their car.

Individuals are more willing to treat themselves and upgrade their lifestyle by spending their savings on a luxury vehicle. Since the pandemic, more individuals are finding comfort in car ownership as people are resistant to the use of public transport. The reliance on a bus, train or taxi has dropped due to health and safety concerns. A recent survey by Google reported that 12% of people who did not own a car were considering purchasing one.

The traditional ways of purchasing cars have declined, and the increase in online shopping habits seen through COVID-19 has driven this, with consumers now preferring their Dealer experience from the comfort of their home. This transition offers both opportunities and challenges for Dealers.

Providing an online experience

A study conducted by Cox Automotive, the US automotive solutions company, reported that two out of three car shoppers are more likely to buy a vehicle 100% online. Therefore, providing consumers with an online experience is essential for Dealers today. The most important and influential moments of the buying journey for car buyers is the research that occurs before purchase and the majority of this research is carried out online.

According to Google, 95% of vehicle buyers use digital sources of information to conduct their research before purchase. Video research is the most popular, many consumers use YouTube to view test drives and features. Therefore, Dealers will need to invest in and adopt new digital processes in order to provide consumers with a valuable digital experience that will encourage sales.

Motor Dealers will have to create online platforms to showcase vehicles and engage with consumers effectively. Consumers no longer start at the car Dealership, researching information on Dealerships usually starts on a third-party website.

A study conducted by DoneDeal found that 90% of car owners start their car buying journey online. Therefore, having a strong presence on popular third-party websites in order to reach a variety of consumers is key to connecting with potential buyers. As the buyer journey is no longer face-to-face, Dealers must ensure to make the online experience as personal as possible by offering features online that allow consumers to contact Dealerships with any queries. Providing consumers with a simple platform to research and purchase a car is important. A growing trend is offering an online option for car delivery as well as digital updates, therefore investing in technology will improve the buying experience. 

Motor Dealers should take advantage of the digital advertising opportunities available. The digital world has evolved radically in the last few years and this has impacted how consumers engage. Social media platforms are an excellent way to connect and engage. They allow for organisations to create innovative campaigns and are also cost-effective.

As consumer buyer behaviour is changing it is important to manage this change effectively. This can be done by identifying the new expectations and needs that consumers now look for from your organisation. Working to accommodate car buyers concerns by conducting business beyond the physical location will create a more efficient experience for buyers.

Motor Dealers will need to lead and develop their teams effectively in order to adapt to this change. By embracing new digital trends, communication, collaboration and productivity levels will increase within teams. It will also provide a more valuable and personal experience for consumers.

Appoint a digital leader who will check in on team members on a regular basis and ensure consumer needs are being met. Build a positive culture that fosters digital innovation and collaboration, and invest in technology and digital tools that will help your organisation stay connected internally and with consumers.

Team development is necessary to manage this change. This development can occur by providing the skills, knowledge and training necessary. Finally, having a team that is agile will be highly beneficial. This will help in adapting to developments and changes that are occurring within the Motor Industry, especially in relation to consumer behaviour.