Think about some of the people who bought cars from you in the last few months. Did they all live in the same city as your dealership? What about the same county? Same state?
The answer to the first two questions is very likely “no,” and depending on your location, you’ve probably sold to a few out-of-state customers, as well. I’ve even heard stories of customers flying to a dealership to drive a car back home, or a dealership delivering cars to a customer’s driveway. Some customers never step foot in a showroom these days.
The Internet has created a rapidly growing market of long-distance car shoppers in recent years. The majority of car buyers are already doing most of their new-car research online, and many are lured by the good reviews, prices and Websites of dealerships far from home. While it’s good to attract long-distance customers of your own, local customers should still be your primary focus since they represent future sales opportunities in the service department and the showroom. They can also give you a much stronger boost in word-of-mouth marketing as opposed to a customer who lives dozens — or even hundreds — of miles away.
Some of the key reasons customers choose dealerships farther away are reasons you can leverage to help you start winning back those wandering customers.
Provide Excellent Customer Service
Most industry articles you read widely agree that excellent customer service is a key part of a successful dealership. I’ve preached to that choir a few times. But do you know how customer perception can impact how far they’ll travel to buy a car? A Digital Air Strike study in 2015 said that 75 percent of car buyers and 63 percent of service customers would travel up to 60 miles — sixty! — to do business at a dealership that has good online reviews.
If your customer experience lags behind other dealerships, whether they’re in your local market or not, that’s going to do some damage. Following up with online reviews (both positive and negative) can help you right some wrongs and improve your ratings. You could also email surveys to recent customers, which would reveal specific areas that need improvement. Monitoring and reviewing customer exchanges via phone, email or text can also help you discover problems.
Offer Incentives After the Sale
Pricing and discounts frequently come up as big reasons why customers travel to buy cars, and for some dealerships that’s hard to combat. I understand a high-volume dealership can probably afford to take more off the price of a car than a low-volume dealership can. That’s why you need to get creative in offering an enticing alternative to your local customers.
Incentives such as free oil changes and general maintenance in the first year or two of ownership can be seen as good customer service and a money-saving decision for the customer. They also help push your customers toward your service department and build loyalty for when those incentives run out. I’m also a big fan of dealerships that offer gift cards for local businesses during the car buying process. Referral bonuses would also benefit the initial customer, in addition to bringing in more local customers.
Fight Fire With Fire
A recent AutoTrader study said that 23 percent of car buyers who used the Internet to research new cars traveled 30 miles or more to purchase a vehicle. Obviously, the Internet allows for that kind of long-distance connectivity, and the study indicated that multiple custom photos — not stock images — of specific vehicles were a key feature for customers who traveled.
If your Website isn’t up to par with those long-distance dealerships you’re competing against, it’s going to be tough to draw in local customers, even with great customer service and incentives. Be sure to take photos of every vehicle that comes to the lot and update your Website regularly with the new content. The AutoTrader study also said detailed vehicle descriptions and videos factored into the decision to travel, so offer a bit more information than the usual spec sheet.
If you want to keep your local customers local, be sure your dealership can compete with excellent service, interesting incentives and a great Website. You might even draw in some long-distance customers of your own in the process. Let me know in the comments what ideas you have for building a strong local presence.