The 2020 pandemic saw shoppers who have stockpiled essential items, dramatically increased online buying, and changed the way they spend their dollars. The market had to adapt to these changes quickly and concisely. Its projected that post-pandemic buying behaviors will be adopted as the new normal and remain the same, with consumers requiring digital access to retail buying across all industries, including vehicle purchasing.
The ability to provide an enhanced customer digital retailing experience will accelerate your revenue growth and drive loyalty, repeat buying, and word-of-mouth referrals.
Digital Retailing Revs Up
From the time the first car dealership opened in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1898 to recently, not a lot had changed regarding the dealer-customer experience. Prospective buyers would come into the store, a sales representative would assist them, followed by a test drive and, hopefully, a sale.
Since online shopping was pioneered in 1979, it’s come a long way. Originally an outlet for B2B, in 1995 Amazon launched as an online bookstore and has developed into the world’s largest online retailer. Initially, there were concerns around security, but with the development of Secure Socket Layers (SSL) encryption, the trust issue was predominantly overcome. In 2005, Amazon set the bar when they launched their Prime service, and from there, the online retail experience exploded. The wide adoption of mobile technology has also made it easy to find it — and buy it — right on your phone.
McKinsey has reported that the U.S. ranked the highest in optimistic consumer sentiment about the nation’s economic health getting through and coming out of the pandemic. A large number of consumers are practicing social distancing and home isolation, and there has been widespread adoption of digital solutions including videoconferencing, online grocery shopping, curbside pick-ups, and telemedicine for health visits. By 2021, it is anticipated that mobile sales will account for 54% of ecommerce.
Essentially, the pandemic and post-pandemic spending and buying habits are prophesized to remain the same for some length of time, causing a behavior change. Consumers’ expectations are that anything they need to buy should be accessible through a simple buying experience on a mobile device or computer. Following Amazon’s lead, delivery of goods should be convenient and quick. Customers are opting for experiences where there is convenience and safety, as well as the ability to shop from their own homes.
Innovation that Drives Behavior
The automotive industry has been slow to adapt, continuing to lend itself to the traditional store sales model, with only a few innovators and trendsetters rising in recent years to meet shopper’s needs.
Regardless of your perceptions of Elon Musk, the Tesla founder and CEO launched the company with a mission “to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport by bringing compelling mass market electric cars to the market as soon as possible.” They established the Tesla brand, and the vehicles have become hugely popular. Tesla doesn’t have dealerships, their cars were sold through stores, often located in shopping malls. Today, ordering a Tesla is most often done on a phone in just a few minutes. The online approach is certainly working out, as they sold 367,500 cars in 2019, outselling their previous two years.
Driving Your Dealership to the Future
Pandemic or not, people will always need and want to be able to drive, thereby, they will continue to purchase vehicles.
The pandemic has accelerated the need for dealers to accommodate digital vehicle purchases online. There’s been talk about digital retailing of vehicles online for a very long time, but it hasn’t caught on universally as a preferred method for sales. We likely can agree that we were moving toward online retail, but many dealers felt they had a bit more time to gear up their stores. Ready or not, the time has arrived.
Initiatives and changes have to be implemented to allow buyers to keep their distance, and have an inspired, easy, relatable, safe buying experience. It’s an opportunity for dealerships to reinvent themselves and provide customer service that drives loyalty, recommendations along with word-of-mouth and social referrals, keeps customers coming back, and brings new customers in the “digital” door.
For many automotive shoppers, online shopping through virtual retail has finally brought them a way to shop at ease, with no pressure, and without the stress of feeling that they need to haggle at a dealership. An overwhelming 87% of consumers don’t enjoy the current auto buying experience, but through digital retail, we have the opportunity to change that and make it right.
A New Normal for Dealerships
This remains a customer service industry and you have to be where the customers are, and today that’s online.
In a recent survey, Spectrum Automotive Holdings found that over 96% of dealer stakeholders feel that the car-buying experience will have an established presence online within the next five years. Dealers need to be prepared to change and adapt as the times require. Look to partner with trustworthy consultants who know the industry, are at the forefront of this evolution, and can advocate for digital retail. Select a partner who will work hard to make your dealership successful in this new and exciting environment.
Consumers will rely heavily on information obtained on websites and apps when shopping for vehicles, and here they will find options that are less constrained by geography. Providing a superior customer experience and excellent customer service will be essential for driving loyalty. Dealerships that understand the needs of the consumer, anticipate their digital habits and how they approach the digital world to search, research, and buy will be the winners in non-traditional sales. They will earn consumer trust and capture the market share.
Through video and virtual reality, showcasing vehicles has become easy and mainstream. The benefits for customers are many and include convenience, public health, and safety. For many, the only reasons to visit the dealership is a test drive as part of the buying process.
Utilization of social channels to promote dealerships also lends an opportunity to provide great customer service. Know your audience, understand the platforms they are using, where they go to consume content, and make your presence known there. The customer experience has to be authentic, engaging, and easy. Look to utilize targeted social media, email, and digital ads that can drive awareness, consideration, conversions, and loyalty.
Develop your digital brand as one that consumers can value and trust. Work with your consultants and marketing departments on developing loyalty programs. Capitalize on the big dollars that OEMs spend to advertise their brands.
Build for the Road Ahead
Dealers who have adopted and implemented digital alternatives for retailing are already seeing the benefits and earning the revenue. Don’t let yourself fall behind. Going digital doesn’t have to be complicated. The early adopters are expected to thrive, and who doesn’t want to thrive?
The needs arising from the pandemic have accelerated the needs of dealers to welcome digital innovation. It’s permanently changed the way dealership customers want to interact. The ability to provide an enhanced customer digital retailing experience will accelerate your revenue growth and drive loyalty, repeat buying, and word-of-mouth referrals.
Mickey Quinn is the general manager of Vanguard Dealer Services.