When elevators first became commercially available in the U.S. around the year 1853, almost everyone still used the stairs even though riding an elevator seemed a lot easier. This got me thinking as to why this seemingly amazing invention wasn’t adopted at lightning speed.
First, climbing stairs was a familiar habit that was ingrained in the society of the time, and second, people didn’t trust the new technology. There were a host of other issues as well, like safety and technical specs of a building, which also affected the long-term adoption of the elevator, but let’s focus on the first two mentioned, since they align with the conversation of automotive digital retailing.
So, elevators were created. Now how did we get people to use them? The No. 1 thing that had to be done was to establish trust in the product because without trust, this invention would fail. Any new technological product in the marketplace will have limited traction if there is not trust, which is the case of digital retailing right now.
In the case of the elevator, they had to figure out how to make people trust it and want to use it instead of the stairs. To solve this initial problem, they hired elevator operators. Having a person — an expert — in the elevator greeting riders and talking with them on their ride eased people’s tension and slowly built trust. This process didn’t happen overnight; it took time and effort just like automotive digital retailing will need time to succeed in the coming years.
The second part is how do you shift consumer habits? A key attribute of the elevator operator was to announce what was on each floor as the elevator went up. This was especially useful in department stores to describe what items were available on each floor. This new guide was useful and couldn’t be found in a traditional staircase. This gave the elevator a competitive advantage, thus giving people a reason to shift their habit and ride the elevator versus climb the stairs.
For digital retailing to succeed in automotive, we need to add the human element to ease the transition from the current habits of car buying shoppers. It is funny that if you read about Carvana, they still have an average of 16 human interactions per vehicle transacted. What this means is that our complete reliance on technology right now to sell cars under the digital retailing umbrella is fiction, because human interaction is still a fundamental necessity in almost every case to transact a vehicle sale.
I believe by adding a personal concierge guide during the shopper’s purchase journey, we will enhance the shopper’s experience and build consumer confidence. It will also enable automotive retailers to learn how to efficiently reduce process friction during the automotive retailing journey by analyzing conversational context and improving the digital process. This will also help alter the shopper’s purchasing habits on how to buy their next vehicle.
This article came about after a few Kona Big Wave beers one night with my great friend George Magda who shared the elevator concept. A few more beers that night and we might have completely solved digital retailing, but for now, it is more apparent than ever that using a human touch during the online process will yield much better results than leaving it to the customers to figure it out for themselves.