The car industry has been hit badly by the Covid-19 pandemic. New car registrations dropped by 30 percent in the UK, down from 2.3 million in 2019 to just 1.6 million last year, and 2021 hasn’t started off any brighter.
January saw a drop of 40% year on year, with just 90,000 new cars registered. That's the worst start to a year since 1970 – but the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders cautioned the numbers could have been even worse if it hadn’t been for the availability of click-and-collect preventing greater decreases.
Fortunately for Jardine Motors Group, it was already looking at e-commerce as an active project prior to the first lockdown last March, and so was well-placed to shift quickly to online sales. The franchise car dealer group, which has been operating in the UK since 1969, has 56 locations and over 2,700 staff representing 16 prestige car brands, including Audi, BMW, Porsche and Aston Martin.
The pandemic acted as a catalyst to accelerate the e-commerce programmes the firm had underway and compress them into a much shorter timeframe. Jardine was looking to offer an end-to-end online process that begins at part-exchange valuation, through to working out a finance package for the new car and anything remaining on the existing vehicle, with the regulation and compliance around that, and then onto insurance, including specialist offerings like alloy wheel insurance or gap insurance for the future value of the product, and finishing at logistics and delivery.
Alex Brown, Head of Digital Marketing and Transformation at Jardine Motors Group, explains:
Cars are complex products to sell. It’s quite tough to keep people engaged in the digital journey with that amount of complexity. That's a real challenge. What the first lockdown did was really focus our minds on how can we make that an achievable journey without asking people to jump through hoops.
Jardine’s initial discussions revolved around what percentage of customers would be willing to transact online for a car – and originally, expectations were not high. Brown recalled the predictions the firm was making 18 months ago:
We thought, we need to do it because online transactions for cars is going to happen. Even if it's five percent, that's a space that we need to be in. So we were thinking about those kinds of terms, maybe there'll be five percent of people that are prepared to do that.
Obviously lockdown comes along and that's the only way that you can transact a car and that five percent has gone out the window. It changed from being something that originally was almost protective, in the sense that we felt we needed to be there because we didn't want to seed that ground to others when there are disruptors coming into the market or whether it's just the capability that we need to have as a dealer group; what the pandemic has done is shifted that to be a meaningful part of our business.
The first step in Jardine’s e-commerce journey was getting a single view of the customer. Prior to this project, the business had a number of different systems to pool customer data and drive marketing, some of which were legacy automotive sector systems. Meanwhile, the business might have four or five dealerships in one area seeing the same customers across the different brands, but the data would be sat in different systems:
In automotive, it can be quite a complex picture. You have households where there are a couple who both have customer records, but the actual transaction has happened financially with one or the other, a household sharing email addresses, shared addresses, and all of that complexity where people own multiple cars or products and have relationships with different dealerships for sales and service and repair.
Jardine turned to Informatica’s Customer 360 Master Data Management (MDM) product to help manage this data and consolidate of all those customer records into a single version of the truth.
GDPR is a particular challenge for Jardine, and a key driver for the Informatica project. This is partly due to the organization gathering marketing permissions for all its 14 franchise partners, and also having agreements with manufacturers about data sharing. Then there are complexities around duty of care, where an MOT or service overdue and the firm may need to contact the customer. Brown says:
Everything needs to be transparent for the end customer, so they can select the marketing preferences that they want. But it's a much more complex picture than, I've got a brand and I need to gather permission to market yes or no for an email or an SMS. And all of those permissions also exist in those source [legacy automotive] systems and all of that needs to be kept in sync. Ensuring that when customers touch different systems or staff are updating customer preferences, all of that is kept up to date, and we’re still being transparent with customers, that's a challenge and a big part of the project.
We were previously doing manual updates and preferences across the different systems to just try and keep everything in sync, and the manual updates were never going to be perfect. It's going to be error prone, because it's reliant on people.
Along with ensuring GDPR compliance, lead management is being improved by the new technology. Jardine isn’t short of inquiries, according to Brown, but not every inquiry gets maximized regarding follow-ups. Having systems in place that are measuring and providing insight back to the business, re-engaging leads if people haven't been dealt with to their satisfaction, and then pushing those leads back into the business, is another benefit:
If somebody didn't buy because they bought from a competitor, then perhaps that’s an after-sales opportunity. It's just maximizing all of those opportunities through having a single view that we can report on and drive automations over the top of. Hopefully, that should give customers a better experience as well, as we're not bombarding our customers with communications that are not relevant.”
Customer 360 has also enabled Jardine to implement Salesforce Marketing Cloud, and get the benefits of personalization at scale and the various digital marketing plug-ins and tools on offer:
We couldn't access those with the systems we were using before, and in a way that meant we didn't have to rip out all the systems we were already using. Because if we were to take 50 dealerships and 2,500 people using four or five different systems and just say, forget all that, here’s something new, it's just too big an organizational change for us to try and take on right now.
So it enabled finance, sales, after sales to all carry on using the systems that they're more than happy with and we don't have to take that on as a marketing department right now, but it enables us to use a best-in-class marketing CRM solution across the whole organization.
Before deciding on Informatica for the project, Jardine ran a tender process where it also considered MuleSoft - now owned by Salesforce. At the time, Informatica was felt to be a better fit for complex matching across near-duplicate records or fuzzy matching, with Brown citing an Informatica feature called beans, which is a mirror in Salesforce of every original customer record in your source system.
The Informatica platform is now being used by other departments, including moving customer complaint handling to Salesforce Service Cloud using the single customer view provided by Customer 360, and using the single customer view to help address certain fraud prevention use cases.
Jardine went live with Informatica Customer 360 around a year ago, and the firm has since added to this by layering e-commerce systems over the top:
We built this single customer view, and an anticipated benefit was, that it enables us to innovate and plug new systems and new customer journeys without having to build everything again from scratch. So we can take our single customer view and then plug e-commerce for vehicles over the top of it. So it's going straight into our single customer view via Informatica.
If you want to describe Informatica, it is almost like the enabling layer that has enabled digital transformation. It's like a translation layer that lets us plug other systems over the top of our single customer view so it lets us move quicker.
Brown sees future potential to expand into post-purchase accessories around the car sale, rather than just selling the vehicle online. But the main objective is to support and enhance relationships with customers over multiple years and multiple car purchases:
It’s mapping out the entire automotive customer lifecycle across sales, after sales, part-exchange, repurchase, all of it driven by marketing automations - and human contact where it's needed – but driven by automation at scale. As a dealer group, we’re quite uniquely positioned to do that because we do all those different elements of that journey, and we have the physical locations as well, so where the part of the journey needs a visit - you might need to get your car repaired physically - we can join up with that part as well.
Brown maintains that the organization’s bricks and mortar dealerships are fundamental to the business, and that won’t change anytime soon. The rollout of the e-commerce platform isn’t with any plans in mind to reduce the number of dealerships the firm operates; rather, the idea is bringing together the online and offline customer journey, with an eye on overall sales growth:
If you're ahead of the curve in terms of capability and adoption, then hopefully you can gain market share. For the online audience, capability really matters. We’re driving people to a website on a promise, whether that’s click and collect or an instant car valuation, and we need to be able to fulfil that to continue to drive that audience. Wherever we do fulfil those promises online, we see the benefit in terms of increased e-commerce transaction. So I would say it's an opportunity to grow.