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Car Shopping Should be like Going to the Ice Cream Store

How broken is the car shopping, buying and ownership experience?
We don't believe that there are big problems with the way we sell cars, but we think it is changing, and we have to adapt. Customers are more educated, do more research and want more want information now. We have to be able to provide shopping experience on their terms.

At Hackomotive, we are looking at problem areas. One is the research experience. How might a consumer be provided with timely, relevant and meaningful information that they can trust as they shop for a car?
What we're seeing through the data is that more and more shopping is taking place on mobile devices — outside the home and maybe in the dealer's lot. So it is really important for automakers to provide the information necessary for consumers to make intelligent decisions quickly. Having a consumer friendly site is imperative as we move into mobile.

In a survey on mobile sites, American Honda's Acura division was No. 1. The ranking was based on several criteria including ease of use, information provided and speed of the site. We scored very well in all of those areas. Understanding your customer helps us tailor the experience to customer expectations. We're fortunate with Acura that the customer profile is pretty narrow, and we have a deep understanding of that individual so we are able to craft site to suit their needs.

With Honda, we have a broader buyer base. We sell Honda Civics to 24-year olds and 54-year olds. Each has a different set of expectations in the process, but it's not just about demographics. What we find is the tech savvy on mobile devices is expecting the same high quality experience regardless of the age.

Hackomotive will also look at the shopping experience. How might we help people decide and locate the car that will make them happy?
We're doing a lot of deep analysis into the shopping process. We believe that the traditional funnel that we all trained on is changing. It used to be that customers did their research, went to the dealership and bought a car. Now people still go through the process of awareness, opinion, consideration and shopping, but they go in and out of each phase. It is not linear anymore as a function of the technology and data that is available. People research and go to dealership for a look when it is closed. Then they go home and do more research, going to the dealership the next week after they've narrowed their choice. Our job — and the job of shopping sites — is to provide information in a way that they can utilize at any stage of that process.

We're working with dealers for a better alignment of what customers see on the site and what they see at the dealership. We know when they are on our website. The technology now exists that when that person goes to the dealership, we can provide more information about the person and their shopping to the dealership. For instance, a customer builds and prices a Honda Civic on the Honda website. Now we give the name to the dealer. But it could be that when that person walks into the dealership, the smart phone pings the dealer that the specific customer is there. It's not Star Wars. It's within the realm of possibility so there is a better connection with folks that visit our website and the dealership.

How can an automotive retail experience be one that people fall in love with?
Buying a car one of the most exciting things a person does in his or her lifetime. The foundation is there for it to be a very exciting and pleasurable experience. Some dealers do it great; others have room for improvement. We continue to study where the process is falling down and how to improve it by benchmarking who does it well and what are best practices.

What should the ideal car shopping and buying experience be like?
It should be like when you go to an ice cream store. Everybody is happy at the ice cream store. They are laughing, smiling and joking. When you buy a car, it should be the same.

How can we better keep car owners engaged, informed and happy about their car purchase throughout the ownership experience?
This is an area of deep focus for us. Studies show keeping a customer costs an automaker much less than trying to conquest a new one. We have active loyalty efforts underway, but I can't share a great amount of detail about it. Honda enjoys decent loyalty scores. We're striving to continue to keep them loyal and happy throughout the process. Communicating throughout process is important. We have to rely heavily on dealer partners for a lot of that experience. We work with our dealer partners to make sure we're helping them understand where they can improve their processes. We benchmark best practices throughout Honda franchises. We adopt practices so they can provide their customers with highest levels of service and build their loyalty.

As a judge, what do you hope to gain from Hackomotive?
The beautiful thing about an event like this is that when we report out what we learned after the event we will report things we didn't even dream were possible — things that were far off our radar screen. Automakers are so focused on the challenges we have in front of us daily that we don't have a chance to unplug and do free thinking or get fresh perspective. This allows us to really ask the questions “why not” or“who says this can't be done “ with a bunch of people free thinking and unconstrained from our day-to-day paradigm. It will be time well spent.