There’s no question that 2020 has fundamentally redefined the sales process for car dealers — in fact, the pace of this change can be nearly overwhelming. One McKinsey report found that ecommerce channels, including car dealerships, have experienced 10 years’ worth of growth in just the last six months. Many dealers made significant investments in digitizing and providing end-to-end shopping capabilities online, including remote video walkthroughs, cross-country home delivery and more.
This has the potential to change the customer car-buying experience. However, in the automotive industry, where the vast majority of historical sales deals have occurred on the lot, many dealership owners have traditionally been reticent to fully embrace the digital transformation. They’ve viewed the digital channel simply as a means of lead generation and inventory placement — but this view is now rapidly changing.
This necessity-driven change is a big forward-step for the car-dealer industry. Dealerships that embrace the new capabilities brought about by digitization will have a significant leg-up over coming years.
Prior to 2020, even car dealerships with an online presence were often reluctant to promote their ecommerce channels. The online-only marketplaces were looked down upon. Traditional thinking presumed that the in-store visit was a necessity to drive sales: Your customers in-store presence is your leverage, went the traditional thinking.
The modern capabilities of an end-to-end digital automotive ecommerce platform are substantial but dealers must first build awareness of the new capability. This is akin to launching a new brand or service — setting up long-term success means helping their target customer base become aware of the new capability and staff understand and operate using the new tools. This means going beyond just putting “you can complete your purchase online,” on your site and proactively reaching out to customers and promoting the capability.
Brick and Mortar Integration
A car purchase is the second largest purchase for most customers, after housing buying. Many of them still want to see, touch, feel and drive the car, which is the strength of the in-store model. However, 99 out of 100 shoppers expect the process to be a hassle, even before they step on the lot.
There is a tremendous opportunity for dealerships to bring the digital capabilities acquired to drive a strong customer experience in-store, using the digital capabilities for hassle-free self service. Offering both customers and employees the chance to enhance their shopping experience in this way leads to more enjoyment from both sides, and turns the in-store experience into an opportunity to build strong relationships.
Personalization Drives Customer Centricity
It’s often noted that consumers would rather clean a house than buy a car. Online sales channels offer the first opportunity in decades for car dealerships to shed negative perceptions and transform the way customers buy vehicles.
However, digitization is just the first, but very important step to become more customer centric. Plain vanilla digitization is like the internet experience we had in the late ’90s, when the internet was a novelty, but generations behind the difference we see today with most online channels. The key driver for this change: Personalization.
Personalization, like the kind customers experience daily through Netflix, Spotify and other apps, is now a necessity for dealerships as well. Knowing the customer, understanding what makes them tick and aligning your digital channel to that builds greater success. Moreover, offering different options based on the customer’s needs, preferences and wants not only enhances the likelihood of a purchase, but also keeps the dealership at the front of the customer’s mind for future sales as well.