When Swati Gupta, a banking executive in Delhi, went to buy a car four years ago, she had a very unsavoury experience. Most executives in at least three showrooms in the city did not take her seriously as she was alone, and only after her brother accompanied her the following week did the dealer offer her a test drive.
The gradual rise in the number of women car buyers in the last few years, however, is causing a subtle shift with dealers and marketing gurus of the industry. The proportion of women buyers as a percentage of overall sales has grown from under 6% in 2010 to over 11% in the first half of 2015, as greater financial independence and proliferation of automatic cars have helped grow demand.
This has led to most companies, including Maruti Suzuki, Hyundai and Tata, to sensitise their dealer network on how to interact with women buyers to avoid a repeat of what happened with Gupta. From employing more women sales executives to offering women-centric accessories, it has now become a new segment of potential growth.
“At present, women customers account for 8% of Tata Motors’ total customers base and the company has been making a constant effort to scale-up its reach,” a Tata spokesperson said. “Zest and Bolt, our brand new products suggest a women customer base of 12% and 14%, respectively, in May 2015. We have also worked at our sales and service outlets with initiatives such as arranging test drives for women customers at a convenient place and time, vehicle pick-up from home for service centres for female customers, employing more women customer advisers, encouraging women advisers to grow their careers, appointing women team leads and training women in soft skills along with product knowledge, to make the experience of buying a car convenient for women customers.”
Market leader Maruti Suzuki has also come up with a host of accessories specifically catering to the needs of women such as a safety kit that includes a hammer, seat belt cutter and flashlight, and digital tyre inflator so you are not stranded in case of a flat tyre and a separate shoe box among others. The company has also witnessed a higher acceptance of new technologies among women and a high number of women learners at its driving schools.
“In recent months we have found exceptionally high acceptance of women for new technologies such as the auto gear shift,” said RS Kalsi, executive director (marketing and sales), Maruti Suzuki India Ltd.
“Of the 100 auto gear shift cars sold by MSIL, over 25 are opted by women. Another interesting dimension is that women are opting for utility vehicles. The percentage of women purchasing Ertiga has increased from 8% to 10% over the last three years,” he said.
“It is a work in progress and while there has been a lot of change in big cities such as Mumbai and Delhi, the challenge is more in smaller towns,” a prominent Honda dealer said.