I've been asking FordOnline MD Steve Hood about the new website...
Why launch FordOnline.co.uk?
It is generally accepted that around 90% of car buying journeys start by using the internet to research the purchase and we wanted to give buyers the opportunity to stay online for their purchase as well as research.
How many users does the site have?
It varies according to the media spend in any given month. The site has been used for piloting buyer acceptance rather than generating volume.
Do you think the automotive industry has been relatively slow to adapt to the internet?
There has been a lot of automotive interest in the internet from both dealers and manufacturers and both groups are very active on the internet already. However, as a dealer group we think that the growing acceptance of the internet means that the time is right for more of the purchase journey to take place online and to treat the internet as a dedicated sales channel within our business not just an advertising medium to drive showroom enquiries.
There is a wider acceptance of the internet and Ford products are reliable and trusted so this is creating a growing opportunity.
A car is a major purchase for most people, and they will spend time researching online – how do you cater for users at various stages of the research / purchase process?
We have deliberately set our site up to be more transaction oriented. We leave the manufacturer websites to meet customer needs in the brand and product areas. Our site is targeted towards customers who have identified the product they want to buy and are ready to find out more about the deal.
What barriers have there been for customers wishing to purchase vehicles online?
Buying online works for some customers who are confident in knowing what they want to buy. For other customers, the dealership route is a better fit where they can see the product and spend time with trained sales executives to reassure themselves about their purchase decision. That is why Ford Retail operates both sales channels.
Do you think many people are prepared to buy vehicles online? What do you do to convince people to do this?
We think that the majority of purchases will still be via dealerships, however the internet will be a valuable additional channel for dealership groups and will grow as the internet develops.
The final numbers will depend on how much technology can replace the physical product presentation that a showroom offers and the reassurance that some customers gain from face to face communications. Greater bandwidth for video, familiarity with video calling and 3D could make big differences in online selling in the future.
How does the purchase process work on Fordonline? Why did you decide to do it this way?
We structured our process to recognise that many buyers know what they want from their internet research and both trust the Ford brand and are familiar with the product.
For this buyer we wanted to enable them to complete their vehicle selection remotely, agree the deal and part exchange value remotely, and therefore to reduce their dealership visit requirement to the vehicle collection and paperwork signing.
We decided to use dealerships as delivery centres to give customers reassurance and a professional environment for final pre collection inspection while our brand becomes established.
Have you thought about adding user reviews to the site?
We are currently developing a user review section for launch in the next month or so.
In the US, Ford, has been highly praised for its use of social media – what is Ford doing in the UK?
We can't speak for the manufacturer. As a dealer group we are watching the opportunities social media presents but are concentrating our resources on developing web sites and online purchase processes first.
What developments can we expect to see over the next 12 months?
We can't reveal our future plans.... sorry! However we are passionate about developing the online purchase process further and faster for this developing segment.