Revving up digital transformation

Privately-owned automotive retail group Harwoods is the trusted partner of luxury car manufacturers including Aston Martin, Audi, Bentley, Jaguar, Land Rover, McLaren, and Volvo. 

Harwoods turned to DEPT® to digitise its business from the inside out. We implemented new technologies to drive operational efficiencies; changing the way its team interacts together, with its partners and its customers. As part of the two-year digital transformation project, we launched a custom e-commerce platform that expands its sales capability, streamlines digital car buying and enables the brand to compete with market disruptors. 

Moving the luxury experience online

Digital disruptors such as Cinch, Cazoo and Carvana shook up the automotive industry, shifting car sales from traditionally being conducted exclusively in physical dealerships to bring the buying experience online, and make it mainstream.

Traditional retailers were forced to adapt or die, but Harwoods seized the opportunity to expand its white glove service into the online space. 

Since 1931 Harwoods has been the luxury automotive retail champion across the South of England, but it was ready to enter a new race. 

Its reputation for service was established at a regional level, and strong relationships were forged with loyal, longstanding customers. As great as this position is to be in, the growth trajectory was limited. By leveraging technology, the brand recognised that it could bolster the success of its showrooms, opening doors to the national market and digital-savvy customers. 

Choosing to level up with the help of DEPT®, together we pioneered a hybrid approach to car buying that puts Harwoods in pole position when it comes to both physical and digital car sales.

Creating a hybrid sales model

Digitising the core of the business was the first and vital step toward building an inside-out, game-changing strategy. DEPT® helped Harwoods reinvent its business model by creating synergy between its offline and online sales operations, whilst boosting efficiency. 

We created a dynamic and scalable commerce solution using the headless CMS Contentful, combined with Salesforce. It was built in React using TypeScript with Next.js, and hosted through Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Salesforce was implemented to centralise its stock inventory and CRM, which were previously managed by two separate systems, creating closer alignment. Having all of the dealership data in one location helps to build customer profiles and gives Harwoods the ability to analyse consumer behaviour data across on and offline channels, empowering the brand to make informed decisions when it comes to future sales and marketing strategies. 

Harwoods will now always have an accurate inventory picture, with synchronised real-time sales across dealerships and e-commerce. In Salesforce, Harwoods’ showroom sales representatives can reserve a car by opening a cart offline, marking it as unavailable across all of its sales streams for a duration of time while they serve a potential buyer. Equally, if a customer is configuring a car to purchase online, other customers are unable to purchase it while they complete the sale. 

In addition, Salesforce is powering search for its customers and employees, equipping its team with the right tools to stay informed, become more productive and collaborate effectively. 

Popping open the project bonnet

We started the project by examining how technology is evolving automotive retail and conducted market research and competitor analysis. 

We took an iterative approach to planning and guiding project processes, following these six phases in design sprints: understand; define; sketch; decide; prototype; and validate. The project was managed in an agile way, making it more adaptable to change by focusing on the specific needs of customers. 

Flushing out key details at the get-go unveiled issues, but allowed DEPT® to assemble an expert team to deliver actionable solutions, such as communicating prudent regulatory information in a slick way that keeps the user on the website and engaged. 

As a result, we entered into trade partnerships and integrated their services into the website. British Car Auctions (BCA) is used to obtain car valuations for customers who wish to part exchange their vehicle; while Codeweavers provides finance options and Rapid RTC is used to manage forms and send sales leads to the most appropriate person at Harwoods. 

Top loading the project and having these conversations in parallel to the strategic planning of the website build ensured everything ran smoothly thereafter. Customer journey maps were drawn out and supplemented with workable designs, powered by a design system

We created a central location to define, host and store all brand and project components from typography to buttons and reusable modules. Having these assets already built and available to pull into place ensured continuity and streamlined development. 

We continued to build the e-commerce project in an agile way, delivering functional and testable parts every two weeks. Automated testing ran throughout, which streamlined regression testing and allowed us to catch and sort issues as they arose. 

As a result, we saw a more polished system from start to finish. Over 54 weeks of coding, our team delivered 27 sprints. During that time, only 20 blockers were identified and of those, only 4% were bugs – a remarkably low figure for a system of this size. 

A truly user-focused solution

An emphasis on delivering a smooth and helpful customer experience aligned physical and digital customer interactions, whilst retaining the prestige of the Harwoods brand. 

We put the customer in the driver’s seat and designed the e-commerce website around them, using these features:

  • A chatbot is a visual cue that an advisor is always on hand for support. Having a member of the Harwoods sales team ready to assist as and when required provides personalised service, in line with the concierge sales approach Harwoods has fine tuned through its showrooms. It’s also a great lead gathering tool, as prospects interact digitally, meaning Harwoods can collect details and assist them at an early stage in their car buying journey and add value throughout future stages.
  • Easily digestible content is available throughout the website in various formats, including list views, videos and deep dives into the specifications. We designed a clean and simple layout with a clear navigation structure. Putting key information at the forefront follows e-commerce SEO best practices while facilitating a smooth customer experience, helping customers quickly find what they’re looking for. And only purposeful images and information are displayed to eliminate distraction. 
  • Pre-filled forms ask the user to do less. And when you reduce the burden, it leads to happier customers and higher conversion rates. We created pre-populated form fields throughout the website from first enquiries all the way through to steps to purchase. We created this functionality by leveraging personal details already stored in a customer’s account. Putting this data to work not only removes barriers to form submission but also reduces entry errors. 
  • A personalised interface is designed to meet the user’s needs and objectives. How a mother of four looking for a family vehicle will interact with the website is very different to how a millennial looking for their first car will engage. We drilled down on car-buyer personas and outlined their optimum path to purchase within the customer journey maps. When a customer specifies preferences within their account, we’re able to tag content in the background and display the most relevant information to enhance their experience. Additionally, personal interactions in dealerships are supported by a range of online capabilities from information gathering through to personalising and completing their purchase.
  • Help panels and tips have been created to guide and assist the user through insurance and tax considerations, keeping them informed and on-site. Furthermore, the complex purchasing journey is simplified with transparent and easy-to-follow pages, featuring progress bars and drop-down lists. It’s polished off with options for ‘Click and Collect’ or ‘Delivery’. Harwoods helps customers buy with confidence, ensuring they’re getting the right deal, and no box is left unticked. 

Creating a dealership for the future

DEPT® truly accelerated digital transformation for Harwoods, and delivered a scalable e-commerce platform that finesses digital car buying in a way that brings the brand into the future. 

The platform’s speed, level of personalisation and attention to detail deliver a frictionless user journey that’s unmatched in the industry, positioning Harwoods to compete against disruptive automotive retailers, whilst retaining its stature in the industry.

Shaking up its traditional business model with a new digital sales channel unleashes endless opportunities for Harwoods to expand its reach and engage budding consumers in favour of a hybrid or fully online car buying experience. 

The bar was set extremely high when DEPT® partnered with Harwoods and our team worked meticulously to comprise a solution that reflected its luxury in-person experience within the digital space.

Even more, we made the transition to digital super smooth for Harwoods by configuring an easy-to-use content management system and design system. The design, technology and digital processes we used throughout the project are paving the road for Harwoods to flourish into the future.

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Global COO and CEO Americas at DEPT®

Missy Foristall

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