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How are car manufacturers dealing with Google’s messy middle?

A recent study from Google looked at the gap between the trigger and purchase points in a shoppers decision making. It has always been clear that this ‘messy middle’ is non-linear and shoppers are spinning their own complicated webs of explorations and evaluations. What was less understood, is how at this stage, shoppers process information and make choices. The study identified that this is influenced by six key cognitive biases. We’ve looked at each to see how car manufacturers are addressing it online.



1. Category heuristics: Short descriptions of key product specifications can simplify purchase decisions


Making product information accessible online should be easy, but all too often this is not the case. The shopper is either baffled by brand-specific jargon and acronyms or lost in long specifications lists. This makes it difficult to understand and to process information to make an informed choice.


Action: Identify what information is really important for shoppers and make it easy to understand. Help them to compare cars by describing their differences, instead of asking them to play a 'spot the difference' game on detailed lists of features.


2. Power of now: The longer you have to wait for a product, the weaker the proposition becomes.


Stock availability is often deliberately withheld for commercial reasons. Whilst this may be a useful tool for managing stock information available to competitors, it is a poor experience for shoppers, for whom the lead times are important when buying.


Action: Show stock availability and lead times online. When you promise a date, make sure you deliver on it.


3. Social proof: Recommendations and reviews from others can be very persuasive.


Peer reviews are important and readily available, but more often than not they are not integrated into the brand experience. Shoppers are forced to look for it elsewhere, which not only fragments their journey but may often lead them to unfriendly influencers.


Action: Integrate reviews into your online journeys. Raise the priority for social media engagement within your digital marketing strategy.


4. Scarcity bias: As stock or availability of a product decreases, the more desirable it becomes.


While some manufacturers hide the stock availability altogether, others are trying to create fake scarcity by placing a 'reserve now' button on hundreds of the same cars that are in stocks, gathering dust.


Action: Be authentic and use scarcity only when you are offering something unique, or where a great offer is limited by quantity or time.


5. Authority bias: Being swayed by an expert or trusted source.


As with the peer reviews, expert reviews and opinions are available everywhere, yet are very rarely integrated into brand online journeys. This is most likely for the fear of diminishing the significance of product experts in dealerships. However, if implemented well and available at the right moment, internal and external expert reviews could be equally powerful across all channels.


Action: Take an omnichannel view and make the expert advice and opinions available in timely places and formats. Use video, interactive walkthroughs, FAQs, articles, phonelines, live chat, anything that works. Don't ask shoppers to make 'enquiries' for the reward of simple information.


6. Power of free: A free gift with a purchase, even if unrelated, can be a powerful motivator.


A device as old as the industry itself that still has an important role to play in shortening the decision-making process and eliminating procrastination, yet typically left only for dealers to deploy.


Action: Extend free gifts to all channels and test and learn what works.


In summary


Shoppers will create their own messy middles regardless of how regimented the traditional sales corridors are. This applies to any vertical, including automotive. Car manufacturers should stop comparing themselves with their competitors and instead set the bar against the best retailers their customers are regularly shopping with. This will enable their shoppers to navigate the messy middle more easily and buy more cars as a result.


See the Google study here.

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