When the pandemic crashed into our lives last March, the prognosis in the automotive retailing industry was apocalyptic. Selling cars has been almost perversely different from every other retailing experience in the modern age: haggling is the norm, deals are done face to face and sealed with a handshake, and cars are almost never purchased without a test drive.
COVID-19 makes almost all of these things difficult to impossible. Lockdowns mean that showrooms are closed. Customers are reluctant to go indoors, let alone get in a car with a salesperson for a test drive. Handshakes are biohazards.
Some automotive retailers see this as the death knell of the industry. As with most things that initially look that way, this is merely an overdue call for drastic change. In this case, for car dealerships to more closely reflect the way customers have come to expect every other retailing experience.
One success story comes out of Glen Mills, PA. Pennsylvania closed every non-essential business back in late March, and yet at least one of David Dodge’s sales reps posted his best month ever in May. This isn’t a fluke either. It’s part of a larger trend that has allowed David Dodge to not just weather the ongoing crisis but to thrive. How did they do it?
The short answer: they adapted.
Thanks to most workplaces going remote, Americans have received a crash course in Zoom and other face-to-face call programs. Dealerships can and should leverage this newfound familiarity and comfort with these programs. Schedule appointments with your customers and you can use some of your old sales magic here. As anyone who has used Zoom will know, not everything will translate to the new format, but it’s a good start.
You’re no longer going to see traffic coming through your front door just to browse. So how will they admire your inventory which is no doubt in great shape and priced to move? The same way they do with anything else. The younger generations ranging from the more youthful Gen Xers all the way down to the eldest of the Zoomers are accustomed to shopping online. Now when they’re looking for something new, it’s accomplished via a Google search. In other words, your digital retailing is more important than ever before.
This change was inevitable, but the pandemic is speeding the process along. But what does this mean for you, the dealer? There’s a laundry list of things you should be thinking about, and things you probably have been thinking about if you’re reading this: SEO, an updated and well-designed site, and someone monitoring your points of contact. What you might not be thinking about are products that are built with a shift to a more robust digital retailing experience in mind.
DealerOn has a number of products engineered for the modern dealership. While we didn’t build them thinking a pandemic was going to shut down stores, they are even more useful in that context than they were before.
One that can help you right now is APEX, a a digital retailing and lead capture tool that allows the customer to select a vehicle from your lot and build a payment plan that works for their budget. By the time they make contact with your sales staff, all that’s left is a tiny bit of fine tuning and a signature. The lead you get is incredibly detailed and represents some work by the customer, meaning that when you contact the customer for that Zoom call, they’re ready to go. Imagine if you could create a custom payment plan for anything on Amazon and you can see how this would appeal to the modern online consumer.
For dealerships to survive the current recession and pandemic the fundamentals of the business are going to have to change. This is not a bad thing. At David Dodge, the success story, the sales reps loved the new business model. They can give every customer as much attention as they like, and can focus on them without distraction. Customers who might not like the old way of buying cars have a medium that’s closer to the ways they’ve shopped for everything else. The change was inevitable. All you have to do is keep up.