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Virtual Car Buying: How Do We Move Forward

At its core, the virtual car-buying experience is all about making the transaction more convenient (and safer) for the customer.

Matt Woods is the southwest regional manager for iA American Warranty Group.

In a culture that demands convenience — that everything be available at the touch of a button — it only makes sense that buying your next vehicle be just as simple. Historically, much of the auto industry has been slow to embrace technology, fearing the ousting of the “human factor.” But now, thanks to a global pandemic, it hasn’t had much choice. Social distancing over the last year has forced the adoption of technology that allows dealerships to conduct part or all of a transaction online, and it’s a trend that will likely continue long after the pandemic. So, how does the auto industry move forward in this climate?

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The important thing to keep in mind is that virtual options are not the enemy. As we’ve seen, they have allowed for more business when there would otherwise be none. And, at its core, the virtual car-buying experience is nothing more than basic customer service — it is all about making the transaction more convenient (and safer) for the customer.

Here are a few tips on how you can move forward with virtual car buying in your dealership. 

Allow the Customer to Self-Educate 

Brian Clark of Copyblogger Media has said, “These days, people want to learn before they buy, be educated instead of pitched.” Customers want to learn all they can about vehicles and their prices before ever reaching out to a dealership. Even Amazon has branched out into the automotive business with Amazon Vehicles. This platform not only allows consumers to purchase vehicles online, but it also allows them to conduct research and begin their purchasing process completely prepared and informed. Dealerships have the same capability. Be transparent, and include the kind of information people are looking for on your website. 

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Strengthen Your Internet Team 

Everyone knows how to send an email, right? Surprisingly, the answer is no. Not only that, but strong internet communication skills also require knowledge around proper response time and follow-up. Make sure your team understands these principles and is trained on them appropriately, and be sure to test team members regularly on their capabilities.

Shorten the Distance 

Don’t be afraid to take the vehicle to the customer. If the dealership is willing to go out of its way and take the test drive to the customer, it makes everything seem a little “closer” for customers and makes them more willing to work with you. In this sense, “virtual” does not always have to mean “online.” It can mean making their homes the showroom, their driveways the lot. And, most importantly, human interaction still plays a big part. You won’t have to do this with every customer. But the more willingly you’re prepared to meet customers on “their home turf,” the more likely it makes you stand out in a good way.

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Virtual F&I 

There are myriad online services dealerships can employ to enhance the online connection between their business managers and their customers. Platforms like Zoom, GoToMeeting and Microsoft Teams have, of course, risen to prominence in our COVID-driven awareness, and they enable business managers to conduct presentations despite the distance. Equipping your F&I team to use these platforms and present effectively is paramount.

The best way to foster long-term success in an increasingly virtual world is to embrace what technology can do for you and combine it with your human element. There’s a common belief that “people buy from people, not machines” — technology just makes that easier. Remember, if you make the experience easy, convenient and positive, they will buy.

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