The word “journey” is defined as traveling from one point to another, usually taking a rather long time. It actually has a negative connotation to it, yet, this is how we describe the car buyer’s experience.
Although the automotive dealership’s digital retailing experience has changed considerably over the last few years, especially recently, it’s still a journey. We still have people researching online for approximately 14 hours, according to a recent Cox Automotive survey. These customers are in the buying cycle for 96 days. That’s a long time.
This leads us to believe that maybe it shouldn’t be a journey, but it should be more of a proactive experience. This is where digital retailing comes into play. However, instead of taking an Amazon-esque approach, many dealers have simply converted their arduous in-dealership process to a similar online process.
A troubling statistic from the Cox Automotive study states that the vast majority of car buyers not only start on a third-party site, such as Autotrader or cars.com, but they end on the third-party site and not on the dealer’s website.
Transparency is one of the main reasons they go to those sites. The fact is, consumers are finding more readily available information there. They can shop for and compare different vehicles — all with the pricing information provided.
Dealers though tend to lock pricing information behind closed doors; we play a sort of shell game with customers. In order to get “today’s price” or to “unlock savings,” they have to divulge their personal data (name, address, email, cell phone number, etc.), whereas they can go to third-party providers and get those same prices without the hassle.
Reducing the Timeline with Transparency
So, how do we get that 14 hours of online research down to two hours or less? One word: Transparency.
We change that arduous journey into a great retail experience with the sharing of information. We share our sales prices with TrueCar and the other consolidators of data and yet customers can’t go to our own website and get the same information? That’s why it takes 14 hours for people to make a buying decision. It takes them that long to copy and paste all of the vehicle specs and pull together all of the different comparisons as they’re trying to make this buying decision. And, unfortunately, what happens with that is the complete loss of control. We’re driving the consumer away from our website and away from our virtual showroom.
So unlock the savings. The more information we can give that customer and the less they have to look elsewhere for data, the more likely we are to keep them on our site.
Provide them the information on the vehicle warranty, the available options on their vehicle, what the interior is like and owner’s manuals — all of the information that they may ever want, need or desire should be embedded in your program. Allow the consumer to self-educate. And if somebody does want to spend 14 hours, then they should be allowed to, and only when they’re ready to provide you with their personal information then let them. Give them an experience that mirrors what they’re used to when they buy online and they won’t end up on someone else’s site.
The Digital Hand-Off
While many customers are willing to complete most of the car-buying process online, most will still want to come to the dealership for portions of the process, such as discussing financing options with an F&I manager.
The key is, dealers need to be able to pick up from exactly where the customer left off online. Too many times, when the consumer actually reaches the door of the dealership, there’s little if any background information as to where they were in the process.
That’s troubling for me, because if I’ve spent 14 hours online and I show up at a dealership, I expect someone to be able to say, “Hey, Ken, I see you were looking at this car, you had a trade involved and I see that you dropped off the website at financing. I imagine you had some questions on financing. Come on in and we’ll do a confirmation test drive on the vehicle you were looking at. We’ll get a look at your trade and then we’ll pick up on the financing side where you left off.”
The customer should expect that the dealer is going to pick up the online experience where that customer left off and be prepared for them when they show up so they’re not spending several more hours at the dealership, starting all over again at square one.
If we change our own behavior by utilizing the right platforms to facilitate that change and make that adjustment, then we can change that experience for the consumer and take it from a journey to an experience.
We need to create an experience for the consumer that both online and in person is a good experience because when they come into that buying cycle the next time, where are they going to go? Where they had the best experience — all the way through the process.
For more information, visit otiservices.com.
For more from Ken Tomaro, listen in on his conversation with his colleague Chris Murphy in this special edition podcast.