COVID has commonly been termed a catalyst for change, and it’s no different here – it has without a doubt accelerated the digitalisation of the car-buying experience in Singapore and the fast-tracked the debut of the full-featured digital showroom.
Audi and BMW debuted their new online showrooms during the CB period, while Toyota, Lexus and Suzuki will debut their online showrooms progressively from late June, with additional features such as 360-degree views of the cars.
But it’s not a ground-up jump-start into the digital domain either – digitalisation of the buying experience was already happening, and COVID simply accelerated the process.
“Digital transformation was always part of the plan for both BMW and Mini,” said Mr Wehner.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly been an accelerant to the transformation of automotive retail. Moving forward, we believe that there will be a greater prevalence and combination of online and in-person sales and interactions,” said Ong Lay Ling the group managing director for Eurokars Group, which distributes Mazda, McLaren, MG, Mini, Porsche and Rolls-Royce here.
“There has been a flurry of social media and online marketing campaigns during the circuit breaker period,” said Ms Pan. “It’s clear that automotive retailers have been greatly disrupted during this period, and so there is increased urgency towards further digitalization of the buying experience now.”
Hyundai and Porsche were two brands who led the way early, with full-featured online showrooms with configurators and pricing already in place long before COVID hit.
Porsche simply expanded on its already mature digital buying experience: “With showrooms closed, Porsche started offering virtual video consultations on WhatsApp and personalised quotations. For an online shopping experience, customers were able to head over to Porsche Finder, an online vehicle search tool, to assess available cars, both new and pre-owned, for sale,” said Jason Lim, general manager of Singapore’s Porsche dealership, Stuttgart Auto.
The benefit for car buyers is that they can now truly shop for cars at the virtual showrooms in a meaningful way: looking at prices, deciding equipment levels, chatting virtually to sales consultants, and even putting down a deposit – a much easier process than it was in 2019.
Before COVID, visiting a car brand’s website locally offered lots of information, but if you wanted to actually find out how much it cost or even to put your moolah down on a car, you had to get on the phone or hop down to the showroom, or puzzle through a PDF of the car prices and models.
Since Singaporean buyers are already well used to online shopping experiences, it looks to have been a largely smooth transition to the virtual for car showrooms.