The COVID-19 crisis has changed your dealership, if not for the long term, at least through the summer. Whether your dealership is in an area slowly re-opening or under continued restrictions, there is a consistent theme: Every dealership is re-opening to a new reality with a changed shopper.
Creating a strategy that adapts to the needs of your customers will shorten the time it will take for your dealership to recover.
We won't spend much time here unpacking the new buyer pool emerging from the crisis. (I'm talking about first time buyers, in the 25-35 year-old age bracket, who generally rely on ride-sharing and public transportation. This new buyer pool, along with previous buyers who have been forced to modify their buying preferences during the COVID-19 shutdowns, require dealerships to remain adaptable during the journey towards a new normal.
Most dealerships responded to the crisis quickly by modifying the buying process, adapting processes, and re-thinking how and where to engage shoppers. The result? Many have made it possible for more, if not the majority, of the car-buying experience to occur from the safety of the shopper’s home. Dealers should be prepared to build on these efforts and add layers of innovation within their processes as dealerships re-open.
Some Ideas to Enhance Your Re-Opening Strategy
1. Re-Envision Sales Events and Community Engagement
Typically, summer kicks off a string of holiday sales events at dealerships across the country. In the COVID-19 reality, dealerships must continue to stay connected with their communities through alternate methods. Adapting your community events to a post-COVID-19 world will continue to facilitate a safe experience for the shoppers:
- Honor first responders with additional incentives.
- Consider holiday promotions that build-up the community (i.e., book an appointment and receive a gift card to support a local small business.)
- Decorate your dealership inventory and bring a holiday parade through surrounding neighborhoods. Consider collecting items for the local food pantry along the way.
- Incorporate community givebacks to appointments and sales, such as, “a portion of your purchase will be donated to a local hospital, food pantry or charity of your choice.”
- Want to host a classic car show? Host it on Facebook Live and invite individuals by appointment only.
2. Create Experiences Through Website, Social Media
Your online presence needs to move from informational to experiential. Start looking at your website and social media as an experience for the shopper where they intuitively know that a good portion of your buying process remains online. List the options you now provide to shoppers, including: online appointments, virtual walk-arounds and trade appraisals, online paperwork, at-home vehicle delivery, and vehicle service pick-up. This will give shoppers peace-of-mind as they begin their new car-buying experience.
3. Play the Long Game With Leads
Contact all of your open leads and share the steps your dealership is taking to maintain a safe environment. It is likely that lead follow-up was less consistent during COVID-19, as your employees adapted to their new at-home working situation. Reconnect with your leads and fill your sales pipeline. As you contact these leads, keep in mind that COVID-19 will have affected many shoppers’ propensity to purchase. It may take increased communication to validate their interest and get them back in the frame of mind to purchase a vehicle. Stick with it.
4. Be Proactive With Online Shoppers
While there are consumers shopping in person, more and more steps of the shopping process are now occurring online. Focus your marketing on engaging shoppers where they are at the beginning of their buying journey. As you market to these shoppers, it's not enough to run traditional ads. It is imperative that you help these online shoppers know what to expect from your dealership. Consumers are not sure what they will be returning to when the pandemic is over. Letting them know what your dealership is doing to keep their safety at the forefront, and personalizing the message based on their needs, will separate you from dealerships who return to business-as-usual.
5. Connect With Your Database
Relationships are built on communication and mutual understanding. Keep the lines of communication open for your loyal customers. Continue personalized and proactive communication that reassures them you are making their safety your main priority when they return to shopping.
We don't know how long the COVID-19 crisis will continue changing life as we know it, but we do know it will change the dealership landscape this summer. Implementing these best practices will help you return your dealership to a sense of normalcy as quickly as possible, while evolving to a changed shopper and preparing for the next chapter of COVID-19.
Re-opening your dealership will not be a perfect science. However, creating a strategy that adapts to the needs of your customers will shorten the time it will take for your dealership to recover.
Chris Martin is senior vice president of customer development at Client Command.