DETERMINED car buyers are defying the coronavirus crisis by turning to online car marketplaces as demand for cars remains strong.
Analysis by the online car marketplace BuyaCar.co.uk revealed an increase in conversions – the number of cars sold on the site compared with the number of website visitors – and that website traffic is higher than it was a year ago.
BuyaCar.co.uk is already arranging ‘contactless handover’ of cars delivered to the homes of people with pre-existing medical conditions who cannot risk going out or meeting anyone.
It comes as emergency health measures, such as social isolation and reducing non-essential outside movement, kick in across the UK, inevitably reducing the number of visits to dealerships.
The coronavirus crisis inevitably puts major pressure on all retail businesses and their suppliers as customers increasingly avoid travelling and visiting commercial premises.
But the recent rapid expansion of online car-buying services, offering home delivery, means that motor retail trade is not grinding to a halt.
Even if dealerships were forced to temporarily close their doors the growing online sales infrastructure is providing a lifeline to manufacturers, car dealers and their customers who still need to change their car.
BuyaCar.co.uk, which has sold more than 20,000 cars on behalf of dealers, Cazoo, which recently passed the 1,000 sales mark in its first three months, Cinch and Heycar are about to be joined in the online motor retail market by Carzam.
Well-known motor industry figure Peter Vardy this week announced that he would make his online sales platform available at no cost to dealers who have so far not moved to selling on the internet.
It all means that consumers have more opportunity than ever before to shop online for a car and receive it at home, just as the world is being forced to spend more time online to continue working and shopping.
Meanwhile, dealers offline as well as online are stepping up to reassure the public that cars can be delivered safely to customers, demonstrating the strictest possible hygiene standards.
Many are uploading videos to YouTube and social media channels to show the measures they are taking, inside and outside the cars, to assure anyone ordering a car for home delivery that it is safe to receive.
BuyaCar’s car delivery partner has also introduced ‘contactless handover’ at customers’ homes, with cars stringently cleaned before being handed on.
With reports of up to 50% fewer people visiting physical dealerships the evidence of continuing underlying consumer demand for cars will come as a relief to an industry facing unprecedented challenges.
Andy Oldham, Chief Executive of BuyaCar.co.uk, said: “While consumers, car makers and dealers all face the biggest challenge of our lifetimes it is fortunate that they are served by a rapidly expanding and innovative online car marketplace sector that has already been proven to work.
“The ability to buy cars from the comfort of your home and have them delivered has never been as valuable as it is today.
“We have already arranged contactless handovers to vulnerable customers who don’t want to risk meeting a delivery driver, in response to enquiries from people with pre-existing medical conditions.
“The flexibility of online car sales platforms, along with intelligent delivery solutions, will certainly help many businesses and their customers through the current crisis.
“It used to be that the pitch for buying a car online was that it’s simply easier and more convenient for many people, but in the current circumstances customers are also realising that it is safer too, during the current difficulties.
“I welcome the rapid expansion of Britain’s online car marketplace, including the increasing number of competitors, because we are all in this together for the good of our suppliers as well as our customers.
“We all have an important part to play in keeping the wheels of our industry turning, while also helping to keep everyone safe.”
A study by carwow indicates that despite Coronavirus, a strong appetite from motorists to change their cars still exists, with 54% still intending to change their car in the not too distant future.
That figure jumps to 70% in Greater London. However, the survey confirms that social interaction and exposure fears are a barrier, so dealers need to be quick to adapt their sales processes to make it easier for consumers to buy with confidence.
Nearly 30% of people surveyed called for home delivered test drives and 28% would like a home delivery service for their purchased car.
carwow and its partner dealers have responded to assist consumers preferring not to visit showrooms at this time. Dealers can now promote on carwow that they will offer ‘delivery & disinfection’, facilitate home test drives, vehicle video tours and the ability to purchase 100% remotely.
carwow partner dealers can commit to ‘Delivery and Disinfection’, where the delivery driver will spray and wipe down the interior, keys and door handles.
The driver will also drop documents through the customer’s letter box, leading to a zero contact buying experience.
James Hind, CEO of carwow, said: “Speaking to dealerships over recent days it’s evident that there is, understandably, social interaction concern among consumers.
That’s reinforced by our survey which highlights that almost a third of consumers would now welcome a home delivered test drive vehicle with sanitised touch points,” comments
“It’s our job to address these concerns and help facilitate dealers and the automotive industry as a whole to keep the economic wheels turning at this unprecedented time.
“That’s why we’ve worked quickly to add functionality to our website so buyers can now easily identify which dealers are remotely supporting the search-to-purchase journey, helping them buy with confidence from the security of their own home, if they choose.”
Motorpoint, which has a network of thirteen branches across England, Scotland and Wales has launched a free home delivery service.
The service is available seven days a week and free to customers within a 100-mile radius.
Customers outside the 100-mile radius will incur a charge and delivery staff will observe recommended ‘social distancing’ measures during the handover of vehicles.
Motorpoint said it has always followed the most stringent cleaning procedures when it comes to the preparation of its vehicles.
This has been further enhanced to ensure all vehicles are fully sanitised before they go out for a test drive, and protective covers fitted as standard to the steering wheel, door handles and gear sticks prior to collection by a customer.
Fixter, the UK’s first end-to-end online car maintenance service provider, said it has seen business increase significantly dur to the Coronavirus outbreak.
It is offering ‘key workers’ a special discount on their car maintenance and is offering London-based customers over the age of 65, the opportunity to request delivery of essential items when their cars are collected and returned
Chief Executive Limvirak Chea, said: “We have seen the demand for Fixter’s service increase significantly over the last few weeks, because it has become more important to people to ensure they have a well-maintained private car at this moment in time and they want to minimise physical contact.
“We have offered to run errands for our customers in London aged over 65 and we want to try and help key workers.
“By offering them a special discount for their next car maintenance, they will be able to ensure their vehicle is in good working order for when it’s next needed.”
Ford said it is working closely with all its dealer partners to navigate through the current Coronavirus effects.
Due to the dramatic impact this ongoing crisis is having on the European market and the supplier industry, the carmaker has decided to bring forward part of the summer shutdown period for our UK operations to the Easter period.
This means production at Dagenham Engine Plant in east London will temporarily cease from Monday, March 23. Bridgend Engine Plant in South Wales will temporarily cease production from the end of the day on Wednesday, March 25.
In addition, the shutdown period will also be extended across the rest of the Ford business in the UK, excluding a small number of employees supporting business critical activities.
During this four-week period, all employees will receive payments at least equivalent to their base pay.
Bentley and Rolls-Royce are among carmakers to suspend production.
Steve Nash, Chief Executive of the Institute of the Motor Industry has confirmed that the professional body is very much ‘open for business’ to support the motor retail sector during the Coronavirus pandemic.
He said: “Whilst we all must heed the government guidance in terms of social distancing, the mobility of individuals and the businesses that serve our communities will be vital during the next few months.
“That means that vehicles, whether personal or business, must be maintained to safe standards and that the focus has to remain on training the next generation of automotive professionals.
“The news on Wednesday evening that schools will close from this Friday and Further Education colleges are expected to follow suit is, of course, a concern in terms of the education of the next generation.
“The IMI has a team of experts available to provide remote assistance for FE colleges who will want to continue to support their students pursuing motor sector related qualifications.
“It’s also vital that MOT testing remains in place to ensure that the vehicles used by individuals and businesses are roadworthy.
“The fact that our MOT Tester and Annual Assessment and CPD can be completed online will help to ensure that the DVSA standards for MOT testing are maintained.
“We also have remote assessment tools for a number of vehicle servicing and repair qualifications and we are reviewing the option to extend some accreditation periods to ensure that motor industry professionals who can’t get to physical centres in the next few months do not lose their accreditations.”
A major casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic is the 2020 Commercial Vehicle Show 2020 in April which has been cancelled.
The option of postponing was given careful consideration given the importance of the Show to the road transport sector; however, it was felt there were too many unknown variables to make this option possible.