Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Buying Cars Online is Passe


After coming back home from the Voting Booth, I was sipping my 3rd cup of coffee watching breakfast news on Tv. I showed my kids and wife, meanwhile two AVs of Tata Safari, the one which was produced in the late 1990s and the one produced this year. They were pretty impressed than I thought, honesty. Then I showed a Youtube Review of the vehicle. Though the reviewer spoke in Hindi, which kids do not understand exactly, he showed the features of the vehicle one after the other and having spent all their life in a single 4-W model, that is our beloved XUV500, they were mighty impressed with the newness that the Safari bought to experience. And mind you, all this even as we were watching a review of the model on a SmartTv. 




One day in 2012, my wife and I went around looking for an upgrade to our Hyundai Verna. Having shifted to Chennai from Bangalore and with both our parents around here, we thought a slightly larger vehicle (read: 7 seater) would be useful for long drives. We saw a few models but took test drive of just one, which was for a distance of 4 kms. After we got back in to our Verna, my wife quipped – either we buy the XUV500 or just continue with the Verna. Nothing else. My second daughter was 9 months old then. A week later, we were on our maiden trip to our Family Temple in a brand new XUV. After 66 months, sold the manual model and bought an automatic – everything else inside the cabin remaining the same but for the gear shift. 





During the lockdown period in 2020, I felt it made no sense to own the “White Elephant” anymore – a Ship is not built to be docked, after all. Thanks to a few good friends and fellow auto- enthusiasts, I refrained. Boy, I ain’t complaining. Have driven almost 18,000 kms in my XUV since Aug. 2020 when I kicked off my road trips, especially on the work front to meet my Colleagues, Distributors (of Levista Coffee) and to see first-hand the Retail Experience. Now that I am driving so much, I have a deep urge to move to another model, what with the same cabin, interiors and features in both models of XUV500 since 2012. 





I never imagined that a YouTube video would impress the secondary decision makers, rather – the Influencers – in the household while making a beloved purchase such as owning an automobile. Test Drives are an important touch-point in selling 4-W. In fact, one of the biggest reasons for success of Royal Enfield, where I worked from 2012 onwards and set-up 160 Dealerships pan-India was that the company allowed patrons and prospective customers to take the vehicle for a test ride. And alongside, offered experiential rides over weekends, special commemorative days, etc. This, worked well for the brand. When a user uses a product first hand – something that Apple first debuted in the Electronics space 2 decades back – the experience cannot be replaced by older means such as reading reviews or word of mouth from other users. 

Over the past few years, online shopping of Automobiles made some noise. In fact, I bought, rather booked my XUV500 in 2018 online for a token sum of Rs. 5,000 for which the Parent company gave me accessories worth the same value as a token of shopping online. Today, things have changed. It’s all about the experience. While family members may not give much heed to what’s beneath the hood, what matters most are the features, comfort and safety. My elder kid exclaimed when she noticed there were 6 USB ports in the new Tata Safari – something that’s perennially important for the Millennial Kids, perhaps. Wife was all excited about the Captain seats in the second row too, which gives great comfort, The very fact that a review (which is not at a showroom but in the living room) can entice potential customers, is in my humble opinion, a tip of the iceberg. The new “influencers” of buying behaviour want everything in their palmtops. Are companies listening? What’s the next big thing that could happen in this space? Virtual Reality, perhaps? Like driving inside the cockpit… Well, the day is not too far, I reckon. And of course, the charm of trials – can never be taken off ever.