By Jade Terreberry, Director of Dealer Sales Analytics, Autotrader
In 2021, automotive dealers face a challenging landscape to navigate. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to create both health and economic hurdles that will demand adaptability among dealerships and consumers alike to maintain a safe and effective shopping experience for everyone.
That said, as retailers look for certainty among these evolving and unpredictable circumstances, one car-selling imperative has emerged: digital retailing. Remote customer interactions – an immediate must in early 2020 – have evolved into a real consumer preference that dealerships can tap into, with the right tools in place.
According to Cox Automotive survey data, an overwhelming 84% of franchised car dealers foresee an increased expectation on the part of customers to carry out more of the purchase process online than they had before the pandemic. This insight underscores the fundamental necessity of meeting shoppers in their new digitally preferred environment – not only in the near-term as dictated by COVID demands but well into the future.
Building a Virtual Ecosystem
Developing the capability to stay connected with consumers via virtual tools will be vital for dealerships this year. Importantly, these tools must work together to create an immersive and seamless car-shopping experience, if they are to successfully replicate the familiarity and ease of in-person buying. By building a “virtual ecosystem” that captures each step and facet of the traditional process, retailers can shift customer connections online, translating the expertise of real-life experts and the personal touch of the showroom experience into the digital realm.
That advice applies just as readily to the “back-end” of a dealership as it does the front – online tools are equally vital for any retailer’s service and repair department, particularly when it comes to keeping customers engaged throughout the lifecycle of their vehicles. From marketing contactless service capabilities to scheduling appointments online and sending digital payment requests, there are several ways for auto dealers to leverage these solutions to engage consumers on maintenance and drive fixed ops revenue.
There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to digital car sales, and dealership staff should feel empowered to test and explore all of the creative possibilities at their fingertips to craft a platform and a strategy that works best for their operation to win in this environment. That autonomy requires an online ecosystem that is scalable, customizable, and intuitive to use for both dealership staff and shoppers.
Networks like Autotrader that encompass end-to-end client solutions – from both new and used car offerings to pricing and safety information, not to mention financing and insurance programs – offer intuitive ways to market the full extent of a dealership’s listings. Once a purchase is complete, customers can even have the vehicle brought right to their doorstep. Packaging it all up together offers unmatched advantages for today’s retailers.
And these tools aren’t just about replacing the physical with the virtual; They are opportunities to optimize dealership performance through sophisticated data analytics. The virtual ecosystem provides distinct research advantages via tools such as nVision – an exclusive dashboard that creates real-time marketing and predictive reports, driving actionable insights for dealerships based on actual customer data and feedback. Migrating to a virtual ecosystem offers clear advantages for retailers seeking advanced data predictions and aiming to achieve the best return on their digital marketing investments.
Emerging trends in car buying preferences reiterate the importance of solidifying a digital strategy, especially for dealerships looking to convert their used car inventory into profits. Cox Automotive research found that a mere 15% of consumers indicated that they would take public transportation in 2021, while up to 24% of respondents could add a vehicle to their household’s garage in the coming months. This could well promise an uptick in shoppers looking for budget-friendly options as they look to get back on the road in 2021, and the Autotrader platform guides consumers through comparing used car options or even trading in their current vehicles.
Ultimately, consumer habits will likely continue to evolve in the next-normal of the coming months. But one thing is for certain – creating and maintaining a virtual ecosystem will ensure a dealership is positioned to reach new and existing customers, no matter what the future holds.
About the Author
Jade Terreberry is the Director of Dealer Sales Analytics at Autotrader.