By Steve Southin, Co-CEO, PAVEInspect
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and economic crisis, dealers have been struggling to adopt and perfect digital retailing and the need has accelerated at staggering speed. According to McKinsey & Company, consumers have no desire to ditch behaviors they’ve adopted amid stay-at-home orders, like more online shopping and fewer store visits. Dealers can’t afford to remain in wait-and-see mode. It’s time to reimagine baseline requirements and then turn attention to taking their customer experience beyond the next level.
Dealers that have been allowed to re-open physical locations have to adapt their operations to comply with health-and-safety regulations and meet new customer expectations. This includes wearing masks, physical distancing, and controlling the number of employees and customers in stores, instituting contactless transactions, improving speed of service, and using more self-service digital options.
Dealers also need to offer a simple and seamless e-commerce experience which includes browsing to research, selecting and purchasing. Customers will no longer tolerate sub-par digital shopping experiences like they may have before the crisis. Retailers have to make sure their sites are mobile-responsive, offer integrated services such as “buy online pick up in store” and out of store test drives while also delivering a consistent, reliable digital experience across all devices and channels.
For some retailers, such as fashion stores or pop-up restaurants, executing at a baseline level is sufficient. Waiting in hours-long lines to shop may eventually return as a super fan’s pastime. But that’s no longer a strategy to rely on – enhanced in-store operations and a well-functioning digital presence are the new normal.
It’s time to rethink experience. For years, dealers have been focusing as much, if not more, of their priority towards improving the in-store experience rather than on the products they sell. Many dealers think that investing in popcorn machines for the showroom, decking out the lot in balloons, holding events or offering special in store-experiences will attract customers and encourage them to linger longer.
As a result of COVID-19, dealers have to ensure that their in-store experiences are even more extraordinary for those who visit. They have to give people a reason that justifies their exposure to health risks and overcomes the new behaviors they adopted during the shutdown.
Think about how premium movie theater brands emerged back when Netflix and other home movie-viewing options threatened the movie theater industry. These new experiences didn’t simply improve what was already offered to customers. They made visiting a theater better than watching at home — offering luxury reclining loungers, high quality food and beverages delivered seat-side. Retailers that offer an exclusive, superior experience like luxury cinemas once did will draw people out of their homes.
An emphasis on innovation and service needs to extend to the digital customer experience as well. Dealers tend to rely on old school techniques online. Lauding that the only way to get exact information is by visiting the dealership and using gimmick calls to action that all result in demanding an in store visit but such efforts are fruitless and misguided. Customers don’t expect a virtual experience to be like an in-person one — nor do they want it to be.
Investing in digital capabilities such as real-time inventory management, payment calculators, trade-in evaluation tools and personalization can create unique shopping experiences. A retailer can use new capabilities to create a social, interactive, immersive experience wherever customers may be which is something a physical outlet can’t provide.
To get inspiration and insights for designing an online shopping experience from the ground up, examine the evolution of other brick-and-mortar industries and institutions. When COVID-19 forced churches to shut down their weekly services, many transferred their church services online via livestream, but Cincinnati-based Crossroads Church has re-imagined its pastors’ weekly sermons. They now film pastors delivering messages at different locations to reinforce that week’s message, for example, talking about the importance of a strong foundation at the site of a historic church.
Take advantage of the greater flexibility and new contexts that digital affords like giving customers the shopping tools they seek on vehicle detail pages so they won’t have to look for them on another site. With a more proactive, progressive approach to both digital transformation and a new era of customer experience and service, the future looks far less bleary.
About the Author
Steve and his 25+ years of automotive retail and wholesale experience deliver in-depth domain knowledge that was essential in his focus as PAVE’s creator and product architect. Steve also has 15+ years of technical and startup expertise that he gained as an Autotech entrepreneur, with his second recent successful exit being the Bumper App, which he brought to market in 2012 and successfully exited through an acquisition by Vicimus Inc. in 2017.