Patrick Fuller, Head of Insights at Sophus3, looks at how a simple transactional model can be used to improve the customer experience on car brand websites and increase conversions to sales.


“For the past 20 years, any self-respecting speaker at a digital customer experience conference has made a reference to Steve Krug’s book, ‘Don’t Make Me Think’. It does what it says on the tin, it explains how to deliver information quickly and easily by streamlining the online journey. For car buyers though, this common sense approach doesn’t always work because one thing you should never do when spending thousands of euros is, stop thinking.

We at Sophus3 have analysed millions of user journeys in the past 12 months, thanks to our eDataXchange partnership of 20 car brands in Europe and have identified many examples of best practice. Participating brands get regular updates on what is working and what is not, something that changes almost daily as competitor brands evolve their customer-direct strategies. It’s not been an easy year for brands experimenting with their retail models, and it’s no secret that the so-called agency approach has over-promised and under-delivered, with many e-commerce solutions failing to generate those high-margin sales that everyone dreamt of.

Our data shows that ecommerce pages get barely 1% of traffic across all auto brands in the EU5 and that’s despite seven-figure investments in online technology and marketing. But our advice to our clients is, “please don’t give up”. The hard yards won in your transition to a customer-direct model are valuable and will have had a deeper effect on your thinking than you realise. Other sectors, for example media and fashion retail, spent 20 years getting ecommerce right, and it’s not surprising that the car industry is still learning.”

“Most auto brands have traditionally outsourced the digital customer relationship to their agencies, and job number one therefore is to build up those in-house skills while overcoming decades of corporate habit. We at Sophus3 have developed a coaching and training framework to help clients to make the transition, validated by our huge evidence base of data to tell the story of the changing customer.”

“There’s no doubt that company culture is the hardest habit to break and car brands find that data can be a highly effective change agent. The question we hear most often is, “how can we use data to manage the customer journey better, both to improve CX, but also achieve more conversions to sale?”.

You’ve heard in our previous video that low customer engagement remains one of the biggest challenges for any premium brand trying to make its case in digital. And our answer is that CX teams should always put themselves in the shoes of their customers, measuring user journeys in both qualitative and quantitative ways to understand what works best.

A good rule of thumb when making any change to your website is to ask, “does it improve the customer experience?”. It sounds so obvious, but try applying it to the past ten changes you made to your website and you may be surprised by how many of them were for the benefit of your brand rather than your customers.

Let’s look at an example. There’s been a rapid increase in the number of stock locator tools across auto sites in the past 18 months, as brands recognise the strength of the buy-it-now impulse when trying to launch ecommerce solutions. It’s why auto retailers in the US have traditionally kept large numbers of vehicles in physical stock. There’s nothing better than being told that there’s a car in the showroom with a great discount that you can drive home today. The reason is simple, we’ve all been trained by the global economic model to transact.”

“Digital has further refined this with social media in particular encouraging likes and shares to make us all feel that we’re in control. Sophus3 has further refined this thinking using its eDataXchange Insights and created a CX framework we call the ‘Transactional User Journey’. It’s where customers are rewarded for their engagement with steps, signals or messages that help them to feel that they are making progress towards their goal of owning a new car.

A good example from another sector is ‘Zoe Health’ in the UK, a brand that offers home testing for nutrition. The sign-up process involves a detailed form where customers share health and lifestyle information, which as we know, can lead to significant numbers of visitors dropping out. Zoe Health cleverly rewards customers for each piece of information shared, either with personalised health advice, information, or simply success stories from others who’ve used the same service. The form, in effect, rewards a customer for their time and is an example of a good transaction.

Now let’s go back to those stock locators on car brand sites. If you can find the link to the stock locator, and some of them are hidden, then the next step is to refine your search. By the time you’ve clicked on the button, you will have already given the car brand what they most want, your attention. So it’s pretty disappointing if the screen is then filled with generic images of vehicles that are poorly recoloured, each with the same price.

Our data shows that brands that don’t show images of the actual cars they have in stock achieve a much lower conversion rate, up to three times lower than those that do. Contrast that with this example from a Mercedes-Benz franchise dealer website in the UK, which shows images of actual cars with a clear label, “Brand New Car – in stock”. Conversion rates are much higher when customers see a real car with a specific offer.

This is just one of many examples of CX best practice that can help to refine your thinking as a team, using our benchmarking data to highlight your strengths and weaknesses in digital. So please do get in touch to find out more about our insights and how they can be used to improve your performance.”

If you have questions or comments, please contact