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Selling Cars in a Post-COVID-19 ‘New Normal’

We are not there yet, but it feels like we may be getting closer to “new normal” and “post-COVID-19.” In the news, the headlines about when we will reopen, and who will reopen first, are starting to outpace the grim statistics headlines. Maybe it’s the rebirth of spring, or maybe we are just about at our collective wits’ end. One thing that is very clear right now is that there is no plan. And likely for your dealership, you don’t have a clear reopening plan either. Opening back up isn’t going to be the same as opening for business, say, on a Tuesday in February. Each new day in the early days of reopening will be new and full of new challenges.

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Will There Be a Car-Buying Boom Post-COVID-19?

There is some speculation that at least for a year, there is going to be a fear of using public transportation. This could be a good thing for new and used car dealers everywhere, especially those in more densely populated areas. The RV industry is already predicting a turnaround in 2021 due to fears of public travel.

If college students return to campuses in the fall, there will likely be something approaching the seasonal demand for related vehicles. However, if dormitories remain shuttered and the new school year continues with online-only courses, that demand will evaporate.

Will There Be New Laws or Constraints Post-COVID-19?

Swift-moving governors took action to declare states of emergency, allowing them to take the reins of the state and issue new orders such as stay-at-home orders that were enforceable by law.

Essential businesses like grocery stores and pharmacies adopted new social distancing protocols, like limiting the number of people in a store. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo closed all dealerships to public car sales. In order to sell a vehicle during the health crisis, it must be done online. Are your salespeople trained to sell a car 100% online if it were to become the new way of selling?

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Here Is How This Could Work:

  1. Your salespeople become internet sales specialists who provide customers with information on vehicles over the phone, via email, chat or even video using internet services such as Loom, Zoom or FaceTime.
  2. Your internet sales experts then send videos explaining the vehicle and its special features.
  3. Test drives. Currently, those are banned in New York but will eventually come back. When they do, you may have to have your customers make an appointment in advance so that you can have the vehicle sanitized ahead of time. No longer will you be able to just make a photocopy of their driver’s license. And what about having the salesperson along for the test drive? Will you need to re-evaluate the policy at your dealership? Does your insurance provider have new guidelines for you to retain coverage?
  4. F&I becomes more virtual as almost all paperwork for the purchase is done electronically.
  5. Pickup and walkthrough will also require a final sanitizing and will be an additional change to your current delivery process and labor cost.

The lack of, or reduction of, human contact will be a real barrier to what was once a very human-to-human and personal transaction.

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There is some upside to a new normal in car buying. Salespeople will need to become much more knowledgeable about the product. This is especially true of used cars as well, where salespeople tend to be less informed about what options are on a vehicle, how they function and what makes them desirable over other models.

Salespeople will need to do their research constantly on all the features of all the cars on the lot. When you have to sell a vehicle to a person who can’t physically see it, you will need to present the features in a way that is enticing to the buyer. The car becomes the salesperson.

Selling in a post-COVID-19 world will be a new business challenge, but one that all of your competition is facing. The keys to success are to get ahead of it, make a plan and train early.

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