Car dealers now need to go digital

It’s a tough time for traditionally run businesses. For car dealerships especially, car sales in Singapore have been decreasing moderately over the past few years, a trend that is influenced by a paradigm shift in consumer behaviour. 

Many young adults in Singapore grew up during a time of rapid digitalisation, which significantly democratised access to information. With varied sources of information on hand, customers today can better make informed decisions on their purchases and who they buy it from. This is most visible in the retail sector which is facing huge challenges in overcoming rising competition from overseas and online rivals.

The auto market faces a more difficult task due to the nature of the goods involved. Unlike other segments like e-commerce and FMCG, automotive customers are buying big ticket items that come with heavy financial commitments, so they’d naturally be more discerning when making a purchase.

To distinguish themselves in today’s market, car dealers will need to first focus on customer experience. They need to get with the times and leverage on the digital tools available out there to create one that’s seamless and qualitative.

Expanding inventories and helping them grow digitally

One way for dealers to draw in more customers is to ensure that they have an inventory of cars that people want to buy.

I’ve worked with car dealers for many years and, from my experience, keeping inventories well-stocked – while also obtaining financing via auto loans – is their biggest obstacle. This isn’t only the case for their business expansion, but for even just keeping themselves afloat when faced with cash flow issues.

Many dealerships struggle with finding the right mix of new and used inventories, especially the latter as it depreciates more rapidly. On top of that, getting the right financing options from banks when buying cars from other dealers can be very difficult. The approval process can be burdensome and lengthy, and it can make a big impact on their business, as every second wasted means a car’s value is being depreciated or intended purchase being lost to other interested buyers.

It’s true that the financial services sector is undergoing a digital transformation but we’re mostly seeing this in more consumerist areas such as e-wallets and cashless payments. The B2B segment hasn’t really kept pace. This is especially for used car dealers who can truly benefit from using technology that improves access to capital, while relieving worries about stocking cars to instead focus on the people driving them. 

Fortunately, more industry players are warming up to the idea of a digital stock financing solution that’s tailored specifically to dealerships. At its core, this tech solution helps dealers manage existing financial commitments i.e. vehicles currently under financing and overall cash flow availability. This is done by aggregating the range of lenders and helping dealers make informed decisions on the financing options available.

However, there are more specialised platforms. These are ones that go beyond helping dealers source the best financing to also helping them to source and fund new and used vehicles on both physical and digital auctions. One example would be what’s provided in the UK by Secure Trust Bank’s V12 Vehicle Finance digital facility.

Reduce paperwork; spend more time with customers

No matter what business you’re in, keeping your back-end running tends to take a big chunk of your daily operation’s time – especially if most of your documentation is still in paper form. 

A study by the International Data Corporation found that over 20 percent of employee productivity losses were caused by paper-based documentation issues that businesses go through. If you’re a car dealer, wouldn’t the time spent on paperwork be better allocated to customer-facing areas instead?

Internally, dealers digitising their paperwork lessens their need to monitor their stock turnaround manually, to organise documents in rows of filing cabinets and of course, the tediousness of sifting through them manually and It also helps remove unnecessary clutter and reduce the risk of missing documentation. Additionally, their business could save costs as they won’t need to spend so much time and money on managing papers. Their cash flow issues are also resolved as they could take advantage of immediate funds transfers vs the traditional cheques issuance method. 

Digitising the Loans Origination Process

Digitisation can also benefit dealers when dealing with customers, especially those opting to finance their cars. Typically, the loan origination process is lengthy due to its reliance on physical documentation. Although much of the information is captured by computers linked to a dealer management system, the details captured would then be printed, faxed or enveloped before being sent to the lender via post. The paper trail ends up being long and adds to the complexity of the process and raises the risks of error.

In contrast, a digital loan origination management system would allow for a more direct digital capture of applicant information via scanners or mobile devices. The information would then be digitally combined and sent to the lender securely for processing. 

This alternative helps to counter the usual gripes consumers tend to have when spending too much time at dealerships to finance transactions. Indeed, a report by Cox noted that more than half of the time spent at dealerships during the purchase process is on negotiating or doing paperwork, which resulted in significant customer dissatisfaction over the time taken..  

Giving what customers really want

We now live in a digital first environment; one in which technology is catalysing efforts to overcome long standing physical hurdles in businesses that now must operate in a customer-first environment. 

Dealers now need to do what they can to cut down on inefficiencies that have been holding their businesses back. By going digital, they can save time and improve operational productivity to give their customers a more valuable experience.

Helen Neo is CEO and Co-founder of Genie Financial Services

Context Not Content in Bits and Bytes

This pandemic is forcing us to rethink the way we work and live. I hope we rethink the way we tell our stories.

Today, social platforms are inundated with Lenin’s words on change – there are decades where nothing happens; and there are weeks where decades happen. Despite knowing that change is the only constant in our lives, we are terrified of it. However, stories of human grit overcoming the challenges past and present give us the confidence and the resolve to not only navigate these changing times but also emerge stronger. “This too shall pass” is not just a phrase, rather a reminder of the human spirit.

Long before we discovered the binary code, stories were motivating individual behaviour, inspiring community action and storing information for posterity. As we progressed so did our stories and their levels of immediacy, impact and integrity. But all progress comes at a price. As the fault lines that were faintly visible start to stare at us, our individual response to this crisis will decide the future of our collective experiences.

What you see is all there is

We need to be vigilant while we sit safely huddled in our homes interacting with the outside world through stories that coming streaming in bits and bytes through the ubiquitous digital platforms. Daniel Kahneman in his book Thinking Fast and Slow explained a cognitive bias – what you see is all there is. He says that we normally make our judgements and impressions according to the information available to us. And today what is available is immediate, gargantuan and polarized – a cognitive nightmare.

The signs of this evolving context have been around for decades but became visible during the financial crisis of 2008. As the Gig Economy flourished and powered ahead so did the digital platforms, thus providing a much-needed impetus to a new breed of storytellers. In a bid to stay relevant, enterprises of all kinds and sizes eager to engage with and influence their audiences flocked to these platforms and the storytellers.

Of course, the engagement often implied that the most available and not the most creative or the most impactful stories prevailed. Earning the trust of the audience was easy given that the narratives were not judged on merits rather evaluated on volumes which was driven by the dollars backing these narratives. Our minds are hardwired for stories and the ones that capture our attention are the ones that are always there in front of us. What you see is all there is.

Rethinking Stories

As the world comes to grips with this pandemic and prepares to open for business, uncertainty prevails. A storyteller knows the power of uncertainty way too well. It is the time when the audience is vulnerable to the creative imagination of the storyteller; a point when the story either leap frogs into hearts or gets entangled in the mesh of our minds.

The digital platforms have not only blurred the lines between various forms of narratives and transformed the characters into a unit of measure but also purged storytelling of its creative process that powered imagination. What remains is propaganda which is delivered with relative ease given the digital context and a narrative that dangerously stokes nationalistic rhetoric and a fear of the unknown.

This pandemic has forced us to rethink the way we work and live by impacting our ability to produce, consume and share resources. I don’t know what lies ahead when it comes to storytelling, but I do know that our minds don’t need the facts laced by misleading data nor do our hearts need to be exposed to the truths of only a certain section of the society. The context of the stories today favours those with power, money and knowledge to influence our behaviour individually and our progress collectively.

As Albert Einstein said – imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution. We need to reclaim our imagination to not only ensure economic progress but also a balanced world. We have to rethink our stories if we want to change the context.

Hemant Bohra is a storyteller, entrepreneur and an author turned male ally. He is the Founder of Fortuna PR, a mid-sized public relations firm in India and CXOLife, an initiative that shares work-life balance practices of CXOs. Recently, Hemant moved to Paris to work with companies eager to explore storytelling as a strategic tool.

Hope is the currency of faith

In a vast and diverse democracy such as India, I have always believed and said that religion is for the riches since their stomachs are well fed and always full.  Whereas the poor or the “have nots” first worry about earning their livelihood to feed their family.  It is this worry that coerces them to believe in something called religion that is otherwise interpreted and perpetuated by our great scholars.   Many institutions prosper and flourish in the name of religion because of poor and misinformed populates, it is time to put charity and kindness above all religions in the wake of Covid-19.

Just as Government of India was creative and bold enough to draw a one-time dividend from the Reserve Bank of India to fill-in fiscal deficit, I am sure that all the religious or sectoral institutions including temples, mosques, gurudwaras, churches etc. whether registered or not, can be made to participate in a 20-year government bond @ nominal interest from their treasury including gold and other assets.

Nobody knows the worth of the Vatican?  However, based on media reports the Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvanathapuram, India, is reported to have gold worth US$ 15 billion with one cellar yet to be opened.  Without adding wealth of other known residences of God, if we were to simply multiply this number with 5 i.e. number of major religions in India, we are talking about US$ 75 billion.  Even if we leave behind 25% for their administration and maintenance, we are looking at ~ US$ 55 billion gushing into the economy.  My trustee friends in these religious institutions need not worry since their cash boxes will keep receiving donations from the faithful including myself moment the lockdown eases.

A word of caution that these bonds are a loan to the Government of India (GoI) and not a one-time dividend.  It should be used for productive measures and creation of capital assets rather than for subsidy or direct benefit transfer (DBT).  The monies collected must be used for stimulating the economy, setting up healthcare facilities, decentralize and deconcentrate economic activities from urban to rural areas, build infrastructure, speed up migration of manufacturing facilities from China to India etc, ….perhaps the Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister may add more here.  As long as the GDP grows by more than 3% yoy, the GoI should be able to repay these debts easily in a 20-year horizon.  If this were to be achieved, the PM can forego the idea of inheritance tax on us mortals forever; might as well use the inheritance left by the Gods.

I fail to understand why can’t all of humanity rise above religious inhibitions to feed the families just as Sikhism runs langar (community kitchen) or ISKCON runs meal program called Annamrita.  I am sure there are many other similar programs and good work being done elsewhere which I am not aware of.  But there is no point in keeping the assets of these institutions idle when they can be used as community kitchens or make-shift medical facilities or temporary shelter.

As I write and suggest this, there is a deep reservation in my mind due to the powerful lobby that controls such institutions as well as the political ramifications of doing something like this.  As I think more, I am reminded of a similar principle illustrated in a Akshay Kumar / Paresh Rawal Bollywood starrer movie – “OMG” which itself was an adaptation of a Gujarati play called “Kanji virrudh kanji”.  I only hope my cynicism is proved wrong.

Saumil Shah is a Mumbai-based Chartered Accountant. The above are his personal views.

What the pandemic means for brands, influencer marketing

We’re swimming in uncharted waters. The SARS-CoV-2 has turned the world as we know it upside down and yet in the chaos is an opportunity. The chain of events that have caused it may not be palatable, but it is there nonetheless – an unprecedented reach to consumers through influencers.

The COVID-19 Curve Ball
In the past month, the efficacy of OOH advertising has essentially dropped to nil in India because the entirety of the nation is bound-to-home. Even adverts during traditional TV content is out for a toss because soaps, movies, and events are on an indefinite pause.

This has left brands struggling to find some means of remaining top-of-mind. The singular and not surprising solution is social media and the creators who hold sway on it.

Why the Aberrant Rise of Influencers?
With conventional means of entertainment not working, there’s an exponential growth in screen times see. More and more people look towards creators as a source of relief, information on the pandemic, and, of course, an entertainment outlet.

The sudden change in consumer behaviour is the foundation for the rise of creators. What pushed it forward was their intuitive understanding of where they fit into their audience’s life during the crisis. Being particularly equipped to adapt to situations, they adjusted accordingly.

For instance, fashion creators innately knew that promoting a cocktail dress, or for that matter any other such product, is irrelevant. They altered course and began amplifying life-saving information or content that helped lighten the mood and made their audience feel good.

Keeping up with the current needs of their followers is one reason why creators are making headway even when the majority of the world is at a standstill. Another is their extreme adaptability when it comes to content.

The Varied Landscape of Online Content
Creators read the writing on the wall and adapted their content to it. The first big surge was live-streams. From workouts to concerts, from DJs to chefs, creators from all walks of life logged on to Instagram live because it allowed them to interact with their audience and be together even in quarantine.

Next came purpose-driven campaigns. Creators used their reach to spread awareness on how to flatten the curve, support organisations and charities helping doctors, nurses and every other professional on the front line.

The final trend is solution-based content. Influencers are now publishing content that helps followers, ranging from self-help videos to tutorial-style guides. They are also producing content that is fun, enjoyable and helps pass the time.

What Should Brands Do?
Creators, with their real, unfiltered content that echoes the needs of their audience, are a valuable resource for brands. Now is the right time to reallocate marketing spend and leverage the authenticity and flexibility of influencer marketing campaigns but with certain caveats.

Don’t force-fit the brand
One impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic is that true colours are coming out. If a creator has always believed in something, they are continuing to do so in spite of the lockdown.  For instance, a person who loves working out, found alternatives and began exercising at home.

Brands should leverage these creators because they are relatable to the audience, as long as they fit the company’s image. Do not choose a creator merely based on their follower count or reach, assess if they have been passionate about your product or service and then march ahead.

Don’t come off tone-deaf
The downside of more content consumption is more monitoring. The consumer is not only reading, watching or listening to your content but also judging its tone. Even a minute mistake will turn egregious during this pandemic, so have a human element to all brand messages and be extremely sensitive to the mood.

Don’t cling to guidelines
A crisis requires a nuanced working, which is rarely, if ever, possible when you adhere to strict brand guidelines. So, the last caveat for brands jumping into an influencer marketing campaign right now is to give the creator leeway.

The current content creation cycle is taking place entirely at home, trust the creator to see it through. Aim to collaborate, rather than hiring a creator. Take a cue from Cosmopolitan India’s Work from Home Issue which was styled, conceptualised and art directed solely by a creator.

Influencers: More Relevant Than Ever Before
Living in isolation has sent people searching for a sense of community and the one resource that allows it is social platforms. In the coming time, expect them to become the most potent tool for maintaining connections. And when that happens, bank on relevant influencers to dominate it.

Ankit Agarwal is the Founder of Do Your Thing (DYT).