For growing numbers of Kiwis, shopping online for travel, clothing and movie tickets is normal. But soon they will be able to get an item not usually associated with buying at the click of a mouse – a new car.
In a move aligned with global trends, Honda New Zealand is, from this month, giving customers the ability to buy vehicles through an e-commerce platform which, the company's managing director Nobuya Sonoda says, is to ensure their business is "fit for the future".
He says the online option reflects the fact that many tech-savvy younger generation New Zealanders "do not necessarily want to buy through dealerships. This gives us the opportunity to cater for this new customer demographic including other generations becoming very comfortable purchasing all kinds of products online.
But people will still have the option of buying face-to-face from one of 18 Honda stores around the country, a relationship with customers Sonoda says the company is determined to continue.
The online store, a key part of a new three-tiered customer model being launched by Honda this month, comes as international research shows car shopping online is increasing, partly as a result of the Covid pandemic.
In an article published earlier this year in Penta, a quarterly wealth magazine published by US-based Barron's (itself a Dow Jones and Company weekly financial magazine) Jessica Stafford, general manager of Autotrader, said research (Autotrader's car buyer survey) revealed that 37 per cent of people "with imminent buying intentions are now less likely to visit a dealership in person because of coronavirus."
But she said the trend is also being accelerated by the fact many don't enjoy the dealership experience.
"Buying things online has become normal for most people, but the auto sector has been behind a bit at enabling it," Stafford said in the Penta article. "Car dealers need to understand that they have to enable customers to buy online."
Online shopping in general is rapidly growing in New Zealand too. NZ Post e-commerce research released this year showed that 305,000 New Zealanders shopped online for the first time in 2020; while Kiwis spent $6.8 billion online in 2020, about $1.2 billion more than in 2019.
In line with trends like these, Sonoda says the new platform means customers can complete some or all of the sales process online – or still do so the traditional way by buying instore.
"The online option effectively adds another store customers can engage with," he says. "Most buyers do a lot of research online before they visit a dealership and this will allow them to complete the process that way if they wish.
"We are challenging ourselves to polish the customer experience we provide so that it is seamless and easy to follow. The touch, feel part of car buying will continue and we will maintain an ongoing and close relationship with all customers including those who buy online," Sonoda says.
Under the new model the existing network of stores will transition to Honda stores where customers buy direct from the company, not an independent agent; Honda service stores (which will include demonstrator models and an appointed Honda brand ambassador); authorised service stores using only genuine Honda parts and accessories and the Honda Online store.
All independent Honda dealers were personally consulted on the changes. Under the new model eight stores will be Honda New Zealand-owned and a further 10 will be independently owned. As well, a network of six independent service stores and three authorised service centres will operate throughout the country.
Sonoda says the change incorporates Honda's unique price promise which eliminates the need for haggling over price. This policy, which guarantees no negotiation and no discounting, has helped Honda achieve an 80 per cent loyalty factor among its customers.
The Honda online store is at honda.co.nz/buy