By Kelly Mulroney, SVP of Product & Engineering, Cox Automotive
Amazon’s success proves that online shopping is here to stay. The retail giant has conditioned consumers to expect a full-fledged, seamless, and personalized digital shopping experience for the products and services they want and need. Many industries (including automotive) are scrambling to keep up.
Dealerships either don’t have the digital tools consumers want or don’t have a strategy for ensuring successful engagement. However, buying a car isn’t similar to buying a t-shirt. Aside from a home, a vehicle is the single largest purchase many consumers will ever make. One-click shopping like you find on Amazon is not realistic for the automotive industry. We know most consumers still want to visit a physical store to see and test-drive a vehicle before finalizing a deal.
The data supports this claim. According to the 2019 Cox Automotive Car Buyer Journey Study, consumers spend 61 percent of the car buying process online and visit an average of two to three dealerships once they’ve narrowed down a vehicle choice and are ready to buy.
The physical showroom is not going away. What’s changing is that the majority of the car buying journey is taking place in the digital world. A successful online strategy will drive more quality leads to your showroom. The challenge is to seamlessly connect your increasingly important virtual storefront to the in-store experience.
How do you do that? It’s not only about technology. Yes, technology will play a significant part in the car-buying experience. But digital retailing isn’t a tool you turn on and instantly see sales. Success requires a new mindset about how you sell a car, as well as new sales processes that support that new reality.
After all, it’s the current process that most consumers can’t stand. They don’t want a hard sell or to sit for hours in your dealership. They don’t want to feel their excitement over a new vehicle drain away as they sit waiting to get into the F&I office.
If you plug in digital retailing tools but don’t change anything else about how you sell a vehicle, you’re missing the point. What the consumer wants is a fast, convenient, and transparent shopping experience that allows them to move back and forth between the real and virtual at their own pace and in their own time. This engenders trust and lets them feel in control of the process.
For too long, our industry has operated under the assumption that obscuring pricing and forcing a prescribed path to purchase is the only way to protect margins. That won’t work in our digital world. Consumers can research and find the answers they want and need. If you bury your head in the sand and refuse to follow the consumer into this new reality, you will lose consumer trust and sales.
Dealers succeeding with digital retailing have transformed the way they do business to meet this new reality, and they’ve done it without sacrificing the bottom line. In fact, those fully committed to this new paradigm have seen increased sales, revenue, and customer satisfaction.
The real art of the digital deal is creating a seamless online to-in-store experience that meets the demands of more than 80 percent of consumers who want to do some of the purchase steps online. When you adapt your processes and shift your thinking about how to buy a vehicle, you open up new opportunities to attract and retain low-funnel shoppers and boost profitability for years to come.
About the Author
Kelly Mulroney is SVP of Product & Engineering for Cox Automotive Retail Solutions. Her team manages product and engineering for Digital Retailing and F&I, as well as the CMS, DDS, and RTS businesses, aligning with the lines of business led by General Manager Mike Barrington. Mulroney has 15+ years of experience in product management, user experience, eCommerce/mCommerce, digital strategy, and product strategy. She has held senior-level positions at large public and privately-held companies including Hotels.com (Expedia, Inc.), GameStop, and Travelocity (Sabre Holdings), Dealertrack Technologies, and Cox Automotive.