To accelerate growth, digitising auto dealerships embrace a big shift in Middle East - GulfToday

To accelerate growth, digitising auto dealerships embrace a big shift in Middle East


Photo used for illustrative purpose.

Car buying is largely an in-person experience. After all, ensuring that a car matches the buyer’s preferences entails seeing and test-driving the vehicle first. However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit — and physical transactions have been radically minimised — the automotive industry had to gear up for and embrace a big shift. And a huge part of it is digitising car dealerships.

Car dealerships are the primary place to shop for a vehicle. Historically, buying from a dealership meant making multiple visits and interactions with sales representatives. However, with the pandemic accelerating the need for digital solutions, dealerships were prompted to innovate and adapt to a new reality.

After a slowdown in car sales during the pandemic, the global automotive market is poised to grow.

According to Statista, worldwide car sales reached 75.3 million units last year, up from 2022’s 67.3 million units. Additionally, data from Business Research Insights shows that the automotive industry’s market size could hit $3.58 trillion by 2031, reflecting a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 3.1%.

In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, this sector is also fast-emerging. “The automotive industry in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region has experienced dynamic growth and transformation in recent years. As one of the world's emerging markets, the MENA region has become a focal point for global automotive manufacturers seeking to capitalise on the increasing demand for vehicles,” Statista notes in one report.

The United Arab Emirates, in particular, boasts a robust market. This year, revenue in passenger cars could hit $6.3 billion, further growing to $6.6 billion by 2028. Electric vehicles (EVs) are also on the rise, with revenue expected to hit $270.3 million in 2024. According to the Bloomberg Intelligence Survey, Dubai’s battery-electric vehicles (BEV) growth is even set to surpass Europe, as 19% of Dubai residents eyeing to buy a car in the next year are considering a BEV — compared to Europe’s 16%.

What do all these figures mean for car dealers? A substantial opportunity to attract demand.

For car dealerships, attracting potential buyers is more than just about marketing vehicles the right way. Throughout the customer journey — from initial research to purchase and even after-sales — they must ensure a smooth experience.

Dealers who are looking to boost their customer engagement in particular, and overall marketing efforts in general realise how an omnichannel strategy can be a much more potent tool in pulling in the customers. Through this strategy, dealers can bridge the gap between the showroom and potential customers at home or through other touch points, thus enhancing sales prospects and ensuring effectiveness of marketing efforts.

In recent years, various digital solutions have emerged to aid in communicating with customers, providing product recommendations, and managing car sales. Looking at things from the buyers’ perspective, such tools can streamline their car-purchasing process.

In a survey by Capgemini conducted during the pandemic, 49% of consumers said they rely on online channels to research vehicle information. Meanwhile, 85% said that they prefer using augmented reality/virtual reality to compare car features. Earlier research by Accenture also noted that as many as 75% of consumers wouldn’t mind completing the entire car-buying process online — from financing to paperwork.

Nonetheless, physical dealerships continue to be crucial. EY’s newest Mobility Consumer Index (MCI) report stated, “The findings of the latest MCI survey suggest that becoming customer-centric is only partly about providing an enhanced digital experience. The physical dealership remains a powerful draw for consumers, who continue to place a high priority on the human factor when buying a car.”

Given that 67% of car buyers in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) — whose member states include the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain — use online research as a primary source when purchasing a car, it only makes business sense for dealers to ramp up their digitisation efforts.

One of the most fundamental ways of digitising car dealerships is having a user-friendly website. And it goes beyond just having a quality listing of available cars, complete with detailed information and eye-catching visuals (i.e., interior and exterior photos and even 360-degree videos). Car dealers’ websites can be equipped with live chat features to enhance customer service. They can also have online financing options for customers who prefer completing the car-buying process online. Apart from a website, an online management system is also advantageous.

Digital tools like customer relationship management (CRM) solutions are a central hub for tracking inventory, automating text messages and emails, and managing the entire sales process. Easily accessible to automotive salespeople, tools like these can help streamline information and avoid redundant data entry, among other common human errors in dealerships.

The key to adopting digitalization among car dealers is to leverage the significant amounts of data that can be produce from such an initiative in a way that will improve conversion rates on all desired actions, such as lead generation, test drive requests, and actual purchases. More and more, this is where the industry is headed and will be a key differentiator for success.

Seez, a Dubai-based automotive tech startup, acknowledges the imperative to digitise car dealers in today’s fast-changing automotive landscape.

Among the suite of solutions, they offer is SeezClick, which transforms dealership websites into transactional platforms that let customers complete the entire car-buying process in a few clicks or taps — right from the comfort of their homes (or wherever they may be). This software-as-a-service (SaaS) product empowers dealerships to personalize their websites, integrating financing and insurance applications, electronic document signing, and customized buying flows.


Tarek Kabrit, Seez Founder and CEO.

Complementing SeezClick is SeezPad, a CRM and inventory management system that boosts efficiency and customer response times. Speaking of faster customer reactions, Seez has also recently unveiled Seezar, a GPT-powered chatbot for automotive dealerships. Capturing real-time data from dealer inventories, car review sites, insurance comparison sites, and bank loan rates, Seezar can assist buyers in their decision-making.

According to Seezar’s recent survey, about 73% of dealer website visits happen outside operating hours. Additionally, the startup found that customers typically visit 12 different websites and reference sources during their car-buying journey. Having a data-rich AI chatbot capable of responding to complex questions is clearly a game-changer — for both buyers and dealers.

Tarek Kabrit, Seez Founder and CEO, said, “Seezar isn't just about improving chatbots; it’s a game changer because it’s transforming the entire shopping experience into something personalised and efficient. The days of tirelessly navigating between multiple websites for information are almost over. With Seezar, you get information that is customized and personal, making it an efficient experience. It's the future of shopping, tailored to you, not just for cars, but across lines of business.”

Apart from Seezar, Seez also has other AI-driven and digital marketing solutions, including SeezNitro and SeezBoost.

Emphasizing that AI-powered tools are meant to aid human workers, Kabrit added, “AI is a power tool for the automotive industry. Seezar will not replace salespeople, but it will free up more of their time to do what they do best — building relationships with customers.”

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