Noida-based CarDealerRater.com is India's only dealer rating website. Its founder and Chief Executive Shikher Dubey details the new concept of helping customers find trustworthy dealers when it comes to buying and servicing cars. Edited excerpts:
How has technology changed the way a company like yours function, especially in the past one year?
People are becoming more aware; they stay updated and informed. Customers want to make informed decisions and that trend has been growing over the past one year. Earlier people were satisfied if they had car reviews and ratings; now they want to know where they should buy from. Technology is the only way to reach out to all customers -- it's fast, convenient and reliable. Everyone has a smartphone now and the Internet connectivity is much better even in small towns. Customers have access to others' experience and that helps them take final and reliable decisions faster.
Are dealers finding better value online in terms of branding and advertising compared to traditional media?
Yes, that's true. Dealers are finding better value as they are now present on different online platforms. There are many reasons for this -- coverage and reach via online medium are faster, real time and more. Customers are investing more time on their phones, and researching and reading online. In fact, the subscription base of many print magazines has fallen drastically, but their online versions are gaining more traction. Online is where customers are spending more time now. So it makes more sense for dealers to advertise online. As I said, its value for money -- dealers get maximum exposure at a lower price. Also, targeting the right audience is much easier online. A few traditional mediums are still effective, but they are too expensive and not viable from the cost point of view. Online is the best option available now.
On the regulatory side, how do you see things shaping up for the auto industry? Is the buyer getting empowered?
The government and its policies are pro-auto, and efforts are also visible. As of now, India is the second-fastest-growing passenger car market globally. We sold three million cars in the last financial year, which was a dream mark we touched already. The auto sector contributes to 7 per cent of the total GDP. Also, India has 66 per cent of its population under the age of 35 with very low vehicle penetration -- less than 35 cars per 1,000 people -- and that makes it a very attractive auto market in the world.
Yes, buyers are getting empowered through the regulation, be it implementation of BS4 norms or passenger safety. Earlier, everything was always taken for granted, but it is now getting better due to policy push, making ABS and airbags mandatory. At the same time, private players like us are empowering customers in a different way.
The auto market includes dealers and customers. Do you think service and trust will also be the key drivers in the market?
Unfortunately there is huge mistrust between dealers and customers when it comes to service. We receive so many concerns and complaints every day on our website where customers say they feel cheated. Also, there is lack of transparency in billing; there is overcharging in many cases.
But customers are becoming more aware and alert nowadays, and they also have more choices now. It is no more a sellers' market, it is a buyers' market. Dealers need to respect that and change the way they operate. They should become more transparent and customer friendly.
What are the latest trends emerging in terms of car sales and dealer interface?
The Indian car market is growing very fast. It is the second fastest-growing car market globally. The market share of compact SUVs is almost the same as it used to be for the hatchbacks a couple of years ago. Customers in urban areas are researching products online before visiting the physical showroom.
With our kind of online product, customers even have the option to research about dealers. Companies like Hyundai has launched a digital showroom for different types of customer experience. Companies, too, have increased their online focus in different ways. There is special focus on dealer manpower training besides enabling showroom people with tablets and smartphones for customer presentation. Rural outlets are also witnessing tremendous growth. Acceptance and demand of automatic transmission have increased.
Most of the automobile dealers own multiple-brand outlets. This is especially true for dealers who have brands like Volkswagen, Skoda and Nissan, which are low on volume. The only exception are the Maruti Suzuki India Ltd dealers as the original equipment manufacturer does not allow its channel partners to collaborate with competition.
How many dealers are there in your databank and going ahead, how will you position the business?
We have nearly 4,000 car dealers on our website, linked to all manufacturers across the country. Currently, 25,000 people visit our website every day looking for reputable car dealers and also to share their own stories.
Our target is to become a reference point for any car owner in the country when it comes to choosing the right dealer. In future, we want to bring all the unorganised used car dealers on to our platform so that customers can rate and review them. Our aim is to help dealers improve and create an overall delightful experience for customers.
Will Indian auto dealers be as empowered as their counterparts (National Automobile Dealers Association) in the US? Or will they continue to be at the receiving end from OEMs?
If you compare the business culture and the ecosystem, professionalism and many other factors such as business challenges, market forces, demographics, etc., are completely different in these two countries. India is a heterogeneous country. When someone is celebrating Onam in the South, the North people are celebrating some other festivals or they could be working on that day. So we cannot compare India and the US. However, I think that car dealers in India are empowered.