The term digitisation has fast become the norm to use when referring to the era in which we currently live. Technology, the internet, and connectivity have pushed society to communicate and function on a different scale, something that has become particularly apparent over the last year with COVID-19 circumstances calling for an accelerated shift to a more digital world. So how has this affected the automotive industry in South Africa?
Wynand Beukes, Chief Digital Officer of WeBuyCars, says “consumers no longer need to drive from dealership to dealership to sell their car or find their next car; a quick Google search will provide them with thousands of different options. As a business WeBuyCars has had to acknowledge that consumer buying behaviours have changed. With accurate information and transparency, consumers will become more comfortable to buy a vehicle online, sight unseen. Technology, data and AI (Artificial Intelligence) integration are no longer a ‘nice to have’, it is a necessity if you want to survive. And that goes for any industry.”
Beukes pointed out that “WeBuyCars buys and sells more than 8 000 vehicles a month and with that volume, supply chain, inventory management, resource planning, pricing, and delivery is a challenge without technology and some form of AI in place. We are building a company based on the premise of a data science platform, which analyses national real time pricing to enable us to do things most efficiently. We use this data science platform to make business decisions like offering fair prices when buying and very competitive prices when selling.”
He goes on to say that “We see AI as a tool to augment and support staff to make the best possible decisions and in some cases, we even automate that decision-making process to enable scale. Even imperfect automation still has absurd economies of scale. We truly believe that utilising our data drives better business outcomes that will ensure we maintain our leadership position.”
WeBuyCars launched its online auctions and sales platform in February 2020, with the initial aim of discontinuing all physical auctions by March 2020. Coincidentally, this took place two weeks before the country went into hard lockdown meaning that both physical auctions and sales could not take place, expediting users’ consumption of the online platform. The company saw 35% sales take place online, which exceeded initial forecasting of 15%. Beukes explains that “The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for online sales by a few years; especially in South Africa and we were fortunate that our business planning meant we already had our platform, data science and AI infrastructure in place.”
When asked how he sees WeBuyCars further evolving over the next 10 years, Beukes puts emphasis on its data and AI technology, while still putting the consumer at the forefront. “At the end of the day, it is still the consumer who is making the decision to sell or purchase, so while expanding our business into the digital era, customer needs will always stay top of mind”, he says. The culture at WeBuyCars is to ensure we exceed customer expectations, remain customer-centric and continually offer superlative service. “The majority of our software has been developed from scratch by an in-house team, with a strong focus on collecting data. The more accurate data we collect, the better we can serve the customer.
“As people are becoming more comfortable purchasing online in South Africa, and from our sales figures, we have seen that even the older generations are moving towards this behaviour.” The motor industry and especially the second hand channel will have to digitalise to stay competitive in this very fragmented market”, says Beukes. “Within the next one to two years you can expect greater efficiencies in how WeBuyCars buys, market and sells as a result of the volume of data being collected, and the tight integration we have with data science and the rest our software stack.”
To conclude, digitisation is not going away – it is only going to evolve much quicker and become more sophisticated.