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Dealers’ Digital Showrooms Flourish Amid Coronavirus Restrictions

Auto dealers in Metropolitan New York and New Jersey were hard hit by showroom closures and severe sales restrictions. Although granted essential status, in many cases, on-premise vehicle sales were temporarily halted. Dealers immediately began to adapt and offer at home sales with contactless delivery. As of May 7 and May 20, New York and New Jersey dealers were allowed to open showrooms by appointment only, under certain conditions.

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Most surprising was the massive increase in web traffic to dealer’s digital showrooms – their websites. Initially the negative impact was severe. Mid-March through early April saw a drop in traffic from 12% to 30% on a given day as the population dealt with personal and professional turmoil surrounding the pandemic. As people “settled in,” an interesting pattern emerged.

From April 20 through Memorial Day Weekend, traffic was up 80% compared to the same period leading up to April 20. While that sounds like it would make sense since the area was hard hit, things get even more intriguing when you compare this period year over year (YOY) — for the same number of days in 2019, traffic was up 58% overall. There were nearly 60% more visits to dealer websites YOY during the imposed restrictions.

Return of Strong Calls to Action

Traffic was not the only data point to increase. With phone systems a mess and sales teams working from home, the logical conclusion was to work the leads. Dealers who took the initiative to adjust their websites, touting home delivery and offering clear-cut reasoning and benefits in return for form submissions, were repaid with significant increases in form and chat leads.

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Traffic was up 58% YOY. Form submission rates went up 123% YOY. And better yet, we saw form submissions themselves increase over 245% from the previous year. Online chat submissions similarly increased. BDC organization, monitoring and coordination has never been more important.

For your digital agency, this can mean more clarity around what generates positive results and where they come from. There was always that broken stream of data between a click and showroom pop-in. Form submit rates have been declining steadily. When you take that out of the equation, what results is a single point of engagement between dealer and consumer in a medium that is measurable.

Geography Plays a HUGE Role

We must also consider the work vs. home predicament. Most people use the internet 9 a.m.-5 p.m. during working hours. With most of the population working from home, the gray areas of geography of click vs. address of registration has been almost entirely cleaned up. We see corresponding drops in traffic from commercial-centric cities and increases in “bedroom communities.”

Even more interesting was the way state lines played out. Dealers in the Metro area close to state lines benefitted the most. Connecticut never had as severe restrictions as New York and New Jersey. New York residents began to search out Connecticut dealers. Once New York began to loosen up restrictions, New Jersey traffic increased to just over the border New York dealerships.

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Survival of the Savviest

Auto dealers’ ability to respond to this crisis, problem solve and unite has resulted in amazing accomplishments during this pandemic. They are an essential business and one of the largest collective employers in an area. Not to mention the largest of the local advertisers.    

For many dealers, uncertainty resulted in slashing budgets. The data suggests management may want to re-think their digital strategies. There is more traffic than ever right now online. Dealers who aim to build a pipeline to recover lost sales are likely to achieve just that. Lead flow records generally precede sales records. We hoped that this temporary dip in sales was followed by a record May or June for many stores. It seems with proper budget allocation, website management, problem solving and strategies, that dream could become a reality for dealers here in the NYC area and other areas within the U.S.

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