Automakers and dealers face significant challenges such as declines in auto sales, rising operational costs, a credit crisis, and an aging workforce. Yet, at the same time, a new wave of consumers is soon to enter the market, providing a dynamic and untapped opportunity for automakers. These 80 million people, dubbed the “millennial generation,” who were born between 1981 and 2000, are beginning to enter the workforce and purchase vehicles on their own for the first time.
Unlike previous generations, millennials have specific requirements for how they expect brands to market and engage them. Millennials use a wide variety of technology tools in their day-to-day lives and want and expect newer technologies to be available to them when interacting with automotive companies and brands and when making automotive purchases. This, in part, reflects the types of tech tools millennials use in their day-to-day lives, such as social networking sites (77 percent), instant messaging (71 percent), and Wikis (59 percent), according to findings from Microsoft’s recent “Millennials in Automotive Survey 2009.”
When comparison shopping for a car, a majority of millennials prefer to visit dealerships in person (91 percent), but roughly half (52 percent) would prefer to use self-service kiosks or mobile devices at the dealership to automate the shopping process vs. talking to a salesperson. Millennials also feel that car customization is an essential option; 87 percent of the survey’s respondents say that car customization, such as choosing car color and vehicle up-grades are important when shopping for a new vehicle. In addition, 91 percent of respondents report that it is important for auto dealers to offer Websites that give a full view of purchase options and service history.
How should automakers and dealers adjust to the expectations of the millennial generation? Certainly creating interactive Websites that utilize dynamic media technologies such as Microsoft Silverlight—a competitor to Flash—is one step. Also, revisiting the user experience in the dealership is critical. Given that millennials like automated kiosks, dealers should consider Microsoft Surface, a massive multi-touch, multi-user technology in a table-top-like form, a factor that potentially could give consumers the option to customize and design their own vehicle by touching the surface, including options such as changing the wheels and choosing the paint color. Once they’re done customizing, consumers can rotate the image of their vehicle 360 degrees as well as watch computer generated videos.
Besides car customization, millennials are also using the Web to seek car buying advice. Sixty five percent of millennials report that they seek advice from third-party consumer Websites and 45 percent report that they use third-party consumer blogs. When seeking car advice, 86 percent of millennials say that Web-based auto financing and service information is important.
Millennials represent one of the greatest challenges and biggest opportunities for automakers. Despite challenging times, dealers and automakers can leverage technology to attract and market to this audience and turn them into long-term customers.
David Graff is the automotive and industrial equipment director for the Industry Solutions Organization, Microsoft US.