I caught up with the co-founder of DigiCars, Abdullah Veraschia. He has a fascinating story specifically behind the birth of DigiCars – a car dealership driven to make an online difference for the South African car buyer.

Friendships become business partners

At the back of an iconic 2010 in South Africa’s history, Abdullah Veraschia met his then potential business partner at pilgrimage and because both were driven by similar passion; cars – they along with other colleagues decided to focus more on thinking what the future of the automotive sector might be? What the future of automotive retail is?

COVID-19 fast tracks cognitive rewiring

The last few months of the COVID-19 pandemic in the eyes of Abdullah Veraschia has fast tracked the cognitive rewiring of human behavior, especially the car buyer. The way purchase decisions are being made, how the perception of digital has suddenly shifted from a nice-to-have to a basic necessity – just look at how connected the world has instantly become. All of a sudden consumers are buying online and those who wouldn’t be interested in joining a zoom call, are all of sudden in on the action. Fundamentally, we have reimagined what it means to be able to connect and interact and still make it personal. This gives a sense of how when human beings are adopted, they adapt.

DigiCars – Where virtual reality and actuality meet

Two and a half years ago, at the end of 2017 it all started off as a 6-hour conversation in the US between two future driven individuals, Dawood Olgar and Abdullah Veraschia about how the world and the automotive industry was changing, but more specifically how consumer car buying behavior was shifting. Now that dream has turned to be very relevant for the car buying consumer today in lockdown. At that time, the main question was: is the market ready for something that’s so disruptive, so different? Now in hindsight, maybe yes, it is – thank you to COVID-19 and lockdown.

Traditional car dealership or not?

Abdullah Veraschia says that whilst DigiCars is a car dealership, they are definitely not the traditional car dealership you’re used to seeing. How? They acknowledge that consumers:

  1. are more aware and more informed thanks to access to digital technology.
  2. They arm themselves well before walking into any car dealership and
  3. understand their purchasing decisions.
  4. Are demanding a seamless shopping and buying experience.

It is here, where DigiCars demystifies all the complexities of buying a car. From all the finance paperwork, with an aim to bring the magic back of buying a car by creating memorable experiences. After all, the purchase of a car has a special feeling. Whilst not all these feelings can happen in a digital environment, Abdullah agrees that both the physical and digital (Figital) need to be brought together – all to provide a seamless car buying experience; a closely related term I refer to as Automotive Digital Retailing.

The final element that is important to DigiCars is beyond the car – after the sale. They continue to connect with car buyers even after the sale through carefully curated bespoke events targeted at DigiCars consumers. Aka – targeted re marketing.

Data is important

According to Abdullah Veraschia, data is important to DigiCars. That way they get to understand and segment their consumers based on their needs and to this match their needs to a suitable car.

Over the last couple of years, they have seen shifts in behavior – buying down, but for DigiCars, doesn’t mean a dumbed-down experience. All car purchases are deemed equal, and as such all customers get to enjoy the full experience of being their customer.

Abdullah appreciates that data is the ‘new oil’ that they have. Whilst the data gives insight in to amplifying customer experience, it’s also able to show shifts in car purchasing patterns.

Through the use of data, DigiCars are also able to put the car buying power in the hands of the customer. It’s through the data that DigiCars are able to assist customers with their purchasing decisions – yet provide for a great customer experience.

Automotive Digital Retailing is REAL

I’ve always said that Automotive Digital Retailing is misunderstood and likened to car dealerships putting up an online form or try to get the consumer to engage digitally that’s all wrong, it’s more than that. It’s about taking the digital world and moulding it into the physical world so that there are no barriers between the physical world and the digital world.

Digitizing a lot of the processes is a need when it comes to buying a car. I’m sure you’d agree with me that it’s really painful to go into an environment and sign many, many forms in a very short space of time. Often form the average consumer doesn’t care to read or doesn’t understand.

DigiCars sends consumer a lot of “information” so they are able to read through it at home. They ensure that all the legal jargon is explained fully.

Abdullah Veraschia says personal experiences help solve consumer problems

Abdullah Veraschia stresses that some of the consumer pain points that DigiCars address have come from a few personal experiences that they endured in the past. It took Abdullah being treated differently because of the way he dressed. This made him realise that DigiCars needed to become unique, hence, the customer experience is at the core of what they do, to ensure that every car buying consumers are treated no differently by anyone who works at the dealership environment, including stakeholders.

Through the use of some machine learning and data, the sales teams are able to ask relevant and key questions like: what are the reasons for wanting to buy a car? vs. what can you afford, etc.

It’s through these questions that DigiCars get to understand and assist customers to ensure they buy a car that is suited for them.

Car dealerships are not for deal-making

At DigiCars, they acknowledge that the car dealership is not for deal – making but about providing unique experiences to car buyers. The research they conducted has influenced their attention to detail to ensure that every single touchpoint is of a high quality and standard.

This way DigiCars give a multi-sensory experience from the way the place smells to the way people feel to the type of experience to the coffee that gets served to the way they get engaged and interacted with – creating a welcoming space for people to come and experience.

Part of this is also making sure that in the process, they don’t bring in too many futuristic elements that they lose their essence.

My personal experience at DigiCars was like no other car dealership I have visited. The kind of environment and culture they have created is deep rooted and consistent no matter who you engage with.

Car dealerships can be all sorts of fun too!

I had the pleasure of being followed by a robot at DigiCars – ‘Pepper the robot’ a reflection that car dealerships can be all sorts of fun too. She followed me for a bit till she needed to get charge.

All of this and more provided at DigiCars is aimed at enhancing the customer experience in the dealership floor.

What the pandemic has shown to DigiCars is that car buying consumers would love to go through this entire process online and ultimately deliver a car in the comfort of the consumer’s environment.

Once at DigiCars, car buying consumers can also play FIFA on a PlayStation. You can have a coffee whilst doing that. They’ve got some books whilst you wait or even get to test drive another car.

Transparent car dealerships win

Two elements are quite evident here:

DigiCars have built a bespoke sophisticated, customized CRM system that really starts to automate all of the backend elements.

I am always excited to come across car dealerships that make a positive impact in the automotive industry, more so those who are future oriented. It’s experiences like these that make me believe that South Africa has the potential to turn the automotive environment into a world-class industry – we are capable.