COVID-19 created a reality few, if any, of us were prepared for. It required dealers across the country to adjust business strategies on the fly — closing showrooms, focusing on the service drive and shifting customer service and sales almost solely online. And now, with stay-at-home orders and business restrictions being lifted across the country, you will need to adjust once more. Needless to say, the next few months will be critical for you to operate within a post-pandemic world — how quickly you can adjust may determine success moving forward.
Some changes are simple, albeit critical, such as heightening focus on sanitation, minimizing person-to-person contact and adhering to social distancing guidelines — particularly in the immediate future. But you need to go beyond that. Despite showrooms opening, it may take some time for car shoppers in certain areas to re-enter the market. You need to be patient; listen to and understand the needs of customers. That means a heavier reliance on data to help understand local market trends and consumer sentiment.
For example, we instituted an ongoing survey of the general population to better understand how consumers are reacting to COVID-19 and how it’s impacting consumer behavior. We found less than 20% of respondents were planning on buying a new vehicle in the next few months; however, that percentage is drastically different based on geographical region. While 31% of respondents in urban areas are planning on buying a new vehicle in the next few months, the numbers drop to 12% in suburban areas and 11% in rural areas. Among those who are planning to buy a new vehicle, 61% plan to continue with their purchase as planned, 29% will buy something less expensive and 19% will consider leasing.
As Main Street begins to open, budgets will be at the forefront of every business owner’s mind. With less than 20% of respondents prepared to re-enter the car buying market over the next few months, it may not be cost-effective to resume marketing strategies that were in place prior to the pandemic. Your approach, messages and budgets need to be revisited.
For instance, it may be beneficial to reinforce delivery and contactless options for those ready to buy their next vehicle. People will re-enter the market at different times, and data will be critical to help you understand the challenges facing these customers and the right time to communicate with them.
For consumers who aren’t in-market, you can still leverage data and analytics to communicate effectively and address their most pressing needs. And while some might not be looking to buy a vehicle, many will still require scheduled maintenance. Gaining insight into vehicles in your surrounding market, such as which have open safety recalls, provides an opportunity for you to fill the service bay and reinforce relationships with current customers and a create a relationship with new ones. If you can address consumer concerns, there’s an opportunity to establish rapport and become the preferred dealership for future transactions, including a vehicle purchase.
None of us were prepared for what the pandemic created, but it’s how we respond and adapt that will help carry us through. It’s more important than ever for you to gain insight into local market trends and consumer sentiment, as it will help inform communication strategies moving forward. Dealers that address the most critical consumer needs now will be the ones who solidify their position within their communities in a post-pandemic environment.