It’s a different playing field now. The dirt lot down the street with a sign from the 80’s that reads “Mike’s Auto” has the same online presence as the mega groups in the automotive arena. In fact, your top competitors might operate out of a windowless warehouse in the low-rent industrial district. Let’s put this into perspective. Normally, a customer’s first impression of your dealership is when they walk in and take a look at the shiny new tile and the desks, the lighting system, and all the things the manufacturer made you replace a few years ago. Now, the first thing a person sees is your website. Your first impression is now digital. Instead of judging your tile and brand new florescent lights, they are judging your layout and the ease that which they can navigate and shop without getting frustrated. Can they buy a car in eight minutes with only three clicks? It takes longer to buy car insurance than it takes to buy a car on your competitors’ websites. Instead of being approached by the salesman immediately entering the building, they are being pinged at the bottom from a BDC or salesman. In an online world where things were already competitive in pricing, things are about to get even more competitive in the race to have the best and easiest to use online platform.
Of course, when we talk about competition we are talking about having the best brand image. Good branding is making the consumer think what you want them to think when they see your brand. How does that concept tie into your online platform? It is everything. Not only is your online platform important, but the content you create to supplement it via social media and other platforms will be essential to separating you from the rest of the online retailers in the market. Have you ever tried to buy a car from Carvana? Try it. It’s easy. Although, good luck with customer service. The truth is, brick and mortar shops actually have a leg up on retailers like this because they can create community centered content that connects a face with the online platform. People still value family-owned as long as the brand image is what they want to see. This includes breaking down barriers of a contactless society. Good ways to do this include being visually active in the community, using humor to break the monotony of quarantine life, and putting forth and unifying the idea that we are “All in this together.” People will remember this period for years to come and what you do for your dealership online brand now will have a major impact in the future.
The next hurdle in this new online digital retail world is maximizing gross. We all know what kind of back end a well performing dealership can bring in. How do we do this without contact, without persuading the customer that he needs the security of aftermarket products? If you use the average software and average approach, then you’ll get average results. This is where things are going to get creative. You will need to begin the process of selling aftermarket earlier in the car buying process. By this I mean, you will need to reformulate the way you initially present the product. You want to sell tire and wheel protection? Make sure the customer focuses on how stunning those wheels are while they are viewing the product online. Slip it in a few times throughout the process that the wheels are everything to this car (and worth protecting). Want to sell the extended warranty? Sell the idea of up to five extra years of worry-free ownership. Make it feel like the standard factory warranty is a downgrade. The customer will think twice about driving off without the extended warranty.
On top of that, you are going to have to upgrade your technology that which you are communicating and working together. Customers and the workforce itself are getting used to Zoom meetings and Teams calls where projects and details are laid out without ever having to sit in the same room. You are losing customers if you are not meeting them in their current medium of communication. The trends were already heading toward an ultimate convenience-based society, now we are there without a choice. Your digital and technological platform, along with your technological proficient staff, are now your greatest assets. Sales staff should be able to work from home and communicate effectively to facilitate sales regardless of where they are, because customers are going to look for cars wherever they are. By upgrading your internal workflow technology you will be upgrading your workforce at the same time.
Getting your customer to the product with ease and executing internally are going to sell cars. If your current system doesn’t do this and you are losing sales from bottlenecks, it’s time to upgrade both internally and externally. The forward thinking companies out there are using this time period as an opportunity to reevaluate how they do business online and as the world adjusts to the “new normal”, it’s time to do what dealerships have done for decades, adapt.