Customer Stories

Nissan’s DTC ecommerce is shifting the gears of the automotive industry

Andreea Pop
Andreea Pop April 27, 2021
Nissan’s DTC ecommerce is shifting the gears of the automotive industry

When you think of buying a car, you’re most likely not picturing yourself configuring, ordering and paying for it online while you sip your morning coffee. But thanks to the pioneering work of Nissan Brazil and its virtual direct-to-consumer (DTC) store with a 100% digital shopping journey, you can now do exactly that!

The promise of automotive ecommerce

Here’s some automotive industry wisdom for you: when it comes to actually selling cars, that job is usually left to the dealerships, not to the manufacturer. In order to buy a car, the customer needs to travel to the nearest dealership, where it configures the model, negotiates the price and signs all documentation papers. Rarely do those dealerships have an ecommerce channel and, if they do, important steps of the shopping journey remain to be made on physical premises, meaning the process is a time-consuming hassle for the customer. 

Nissan Brazil recognized that the automotive status quo needed to adapt to today’s digital imperative, no matter how challenging it may be. Thus, it started to entertain the idea of direct-to-consumer (DTC) ecommerce, aware that such an initiative was just a step forward from the institutional tools that it already possessed, like digital information on the car model.

“If the dealerships don’t offer an ecommerce channel, we as the manufacturing company should do it, for the customer needs someone, anyone, to do it. The customer doesn’t wait.”

Bruno Freitas, Ecommerce Specialist at Nissan Brazil
automotive ecommerce

In 2018, the launch of Nissan Leaf was the perfect opportunity to see whether an industry so entrenched in traditional commerce could be converted to the digital religion. The automaker tackled the pre-sale period for the new electric car by setting up a virtual store, but one that merely scratched the automotive ecommerce iceberg, just to test the waters. And while the project delivered good sales results, it provided something far more valuable: a confirmation that the ecommerce channel was viable and that it should be pursued, this time with all engines running – technology, budget and mindset. 

Revving the automotive ecommerce engines

Nissan Brazil set out to craft an automotive ecommerce operation with a fully-digital customer journey, one that included online payment and documentation signing. Only the pick-up of the car would be done in-person at a chosen dealership, because home delivery of cars is not yet allowed by the Brazilian law. With this approach, Nissan Brazil would differentiate itself from other automakers dabbling in DTC ecommerce or online dealership operations still rigidly anchored in the offline – no one else had what Nissan envisioned.

“This is a different way of selling cars, by doing business directly with the customers.”

Cristiano Mineiro, Marketing Manager at Nissan Brazil

Nissan Brazil’s roadmap for its coveted automotive ecommerce got a nitro boost in 2020, when the coronavirus pandemic closed down dealerships and forced customers inside their homes. This prompted Nissan to assign high priority to the digital commerce project, as it would come to the aid of all parties involved (i.e. automaker, dealerships, customers). But before embarking on that particular road trip, preparations had to be made. 

Firstly, acquiring the right technology that could sustain a bigger, bolder vision of automotive ecommerce. Nissan Brazil handpicked VTEX not only for its platform, but also for the support along the journey. 

“The pilot of this project was created using another platform, but every small change was stressful and took a long time to be implemented. We couldn’t afford to have this experience again, especially as we are not a technology company. Additionally, we didn’t have time to learn, think and develop ourselves, we needed to quickly outsource ideas from a team with experience.”

Bruno Freitas, Ecommerce Specialist at Nissan Brazil

Secondly, convincing the dealership network to embrace this DTC ecommerce channel. Given the ecommerce inventory would be Nissan’s, not theirs, and that pick-up would still need to be made on their premises, dealerships might have been tempted to view the digital operation as a competitor. So Nissan Brazil offered them, for each DTC order picked-up at their location, the same commissions they would normally earn, ensuring this collaboration would hold fast even after the health crisis would come to an end. 

Ready, steady, go! 

After just 2 months, Nissan Brazil’s virtual store went live with a fully-functional MVP in August 2020. It was built on VTEX IO, a serverless development platform that had the needed flexibility and simplicity for a fast implementation, smooth integrations and a high-quality user experience.

“The project was incredibly challenging, but for the project team it was great to create something unique from scratch. From the first moment until the go-live, we were grateful to have this opportunity. For most of us, this project has definitely marked our careers.”

Bruno Freitas, Ecommerce Specialist at Nissan Brazil

As promised, every part of the shopping journey is online. You can have fun comparing models, learn more about their features, configure the interior and exterior.

automotive ecommerce

Once that is said and done, you’ll swiftly go to payment, arguably the most important step of the process. The customer can choose to pay the full amount through online banking or opt for a deposit and installments in credit. The latter is possible through a partnership with Banco Itaú, which does a real-time assessment of the customer’s credit score using ZFlow and then offers a complete and transparent financial plan, simulating upcoming installments, in the span of seconds. Now that’s what we call need for speed. 

“When you buy a car in Brazil, you have to negotiate and sign a lot of papers and the process takes a long time to finalize. But our virtual store is just like normal online shopping, which seems too easy to be true to some of our customers.”

Bruno Freitas, Ecommerce Specialist at Nissan Brazil

At first, the virtual store offered the exclusive online sale of Nissan Versa V-Drive 1.0 and, for the first 100 bold buyers, complementary packages including free revisions and fuel vouchers. It also supported the launches of two other models, Novo Versa and Novo Kicks, enabling over 100 cars to be sold in just three weeks. In April 2021, Nissan Leaf will onboard the virtual line-up and soon enough the inventory of all 183 dealerships currently available as pick-up options will be integrated into the store, providing more and more stock options to the customer. 

“This channel is not of the future, it’s a current reality, and we showed that it is not only possible, but also profitable. It provides us with more operational control and more direct customer insights, while also saving time for our customers in the process.”

Cristiano Mineiro, Marketing Manager at Nissan Brazil

The navigation system for unparalleled automotive ecommerce

While Nissan was behind the wheel of this digital project, VTEX’s Professional Services team was in the passenger’s seat, giving directions towards the destination of success. Professional Services are a squad of solution experts working alongside our customers to transfer knowledge, bring strategic insights and find the best solutions, all gladly welcomed in an innovative project such as this one. 

“The team helped us translate our vision into an actionable roadmap for high-quality ecommerce. It even brought new ideas. That’s what’s so great about working with VTEX, it’s possible to plug in solutions that other big retailers are using, whether it’s related to payment, UX, or customer communication – and we can do that very fast.”

Cristiano Mineiro, Marketing Manager at Nissan Brazil

As Nissan Brazil is scaling the virtual store and adding plenty more features and solutions, (e.g. payment methods, the option of trade-in, insurance and live communication through chatbots, etc.), customer support remains essential. VTEX will stay close to the brand, proud to perfect the ecommerce tool that will completely change the game for Nissan on a global scale – and, quite possibly, for the entire automotive industry. The race is on. 

“We are really happy to have VTEX as a partner, because we can discuss anything that we come up with, see whether it’s going to work or not, and then develop a solution. It’s an open-minded company and having this sort of mentality ensures a great collaboration.”

Bruno Freitas, Ecommerce Specialist at Nissan Brazil
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