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The Critical Need to Embrace Digital Retailing in the Dealership

The past six months have told us a lot about the resilience of American auto dealers. 

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While it hasn’t been easy, dealers are learning to work with lean staff, even leaner inventory and increased safety precautions. During peak shutdown, 80% of dealers got creative by implementing delivery-based services, strict social distancing and staggered hours to support new and existing customerss. 

Being nimble and integrating the in-person and online car-buying experience ultimately helped our industry establish a new normal. Sixty-six percent of dealers now have dedicated digital retailing staff versus 52% before the COVID-19 crisis, with the top benefits being functionality, ease of use and customer interaction. 

Dealers quickly learned they need digital tools to meet consumers’ shopping expectations, but there’s still work to be done. In today’s market, dealers need to establish a user-friendly sales process that integrates with consumers’ increased interest in online research and sales. During the last several months, only 34% of car buyers were able to purchase their vehicle completely online, with 24% of people able to conduct business partially online. 

Of course, digital retailing and dealership marketing tools won’t automate the entire sales process. The goal with virtual retailing is to make the process more efficient for the consumer and remove that age-old perception of needing to spend multiple hours in a dealership to purchase a car. 

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If you’re not already implementing these strategies to sell in today’s market, consider the following to increase ROI and customer experience. 

Be Proactive in Your Outreach 

• Use digital marketing tools to target customers who are in market to buy a new or pre-owned vehicle. Take this point one step further by utilizing predictive analytics to send the right marketing message, to the right person, at the right time. 
• Educate customers about the safety precautions you’re taking with their purchase or vehicle service appointment.
• Communicate with a multi-channel approach — text messaging and chat bots are ideal for customers looking for quick answers. 

Improve Customer Communication

• Maximize every customer touchpoint whether digitally or in person. Showing empathy to your customers can go a long way. 
• Follow up on internet leads with specific information on how to access the digital retailing tool that will help automate their purchase or research process. 
• Include tiles or banners on your website to create a user-friendly experience for car buyers to better access information about their potential purchase. 

Leverage Technology 

• Utilize data to have more intelligent conversations with buyers. Reduce time spent asking redundant questions when you can tap into your CRM for answers. 
• Use vehicle trade-ins to supplement inventory shortages. Online tools can quickly give you the vehicle’s value in real time.  
• Use features like video messaging to remotely connect with customers on a human level. 

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While what happens in the remainder of 2020 is yet to be seen, one thing is certain: Digital retailing has reshaped the future of the car-buying experience. IHS Markit predicts 65% of dealers expect an acceleration in development of online vehicle sales and booking platforms.

The more dealers make digital retailing part of the car buying experience, the more customers are going to expect this as the new normal. There are approximately 9 million in-market consumers who are ready to buy in 2020 without strong loyalty to a specific brand. Take proactive steps to ensure your dealership is keeping customer experience top of mind and using digital retailing technology to seal the deal.

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