There’s a big push in our industry right now to bring as much of the car buying process online as possible. Startups are entering the space believing that consumers want this ability and automotive vendors of all sizes are creating products to facilitate that.
However, some dealers are afraid to adopt these solutions for fear of loss of control and decreased profits. It’s certainly much easier to sell product – especially the increasingly important products in F&I – if the customer is sitting in front of you, rather than through some website widget.
Today’s car buyers visit numerous websites to gather information about vehicles and many arrive at the dealership knowing which vehicle they want and exactly what they want to pay for it. That’s not going to change. But what if I told you that the more “digital” car buyers get, the more they actually want to visit your showroom? Well, according to a recent study by Accenture, that’s exactly what’s happening.
According to the study, 60 percent of digital car buyers stop at the dealership more than twice before buying a vehicle, compared to 47 percent of those consumers less active online in the car buying process.
The ability to complete some of the car buying process online is simply a way for the digital customer to reduce the amount of time spent physically at the dealership completing the transaction. The report suggests that the reason the digital customer needs less time at the dealership is that they’ve already made their purchase decision online. But there seems to be a contradiction here – how can a digital customer visit the dealership more, yet need less time at the dealership? The reason is that by the point that they’re ready to buy they have already gathered the information they needed through digital sources AND have visited the dealership multiple times in order to collect physical information (view colors in person, ask questions, compare trim levels in person, test drive vehicles, have their trade-in appraised etc.). So, at the point they’re ready to buy, those widgets and online car buying facilitation tools simply help them get ahead in the process.
However, decreased time at your dealership means you have less time to create a relationship with the customer. If the industry transforms into a straight transaction-based business, then the customer could potentially have no more loyalty to your dealership than your competition.
How do you build a relationship with a customer who wants to spend less time buying a car? You begin to build that relationship from the moment the customer walks in the door. According to the study, it’s much more likely that the customer you just greeted is a digital car buyer than a conventional one. Yet, in many cases, our current road to the sale focuses on exactly that… the sale. Most manager introductions, service drive walks and other relationship-building opportunities for dealerships happen AFTER the sale. If you have a digital car buyer, you may not have as much of an opportunity to do these things.
Start building value in your dealership from the moment the customer walks in the door. Consider integrating service walks and manager introductions into the beginning of the sales process, not after the customer buys a vehicle.
Perhaps then you have a better chance of convincing the customer that they should buy from you and should also bring their vehicle back for service.
If they already know what they want, how much they want to pay for it; what their trade-in is worth; and every other piece of information; then why start the whole process trying to give them something they already have? How about selling the dealership first?
As online vehicle buying tools become more utilized, this simple tweak in the initial contact with a customer could mean the difference between seeing them again…
…or having them visit the most convenient competitor.
Author: Michael Gorun
Michael Gorun is founder of Performance Loyalty Group, a technology-based owner retention and loyalty company. He has more than 25 years in operational service management positions for Ford, Nissan and General Motors. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.