There’s no doubt about it: the car-buying process has changed pretty radically in the past 15 years. Whereas a customer’s journey used to begin and end in a showroom, it now jumps seamlessly between different channels several times. At least, the hope is that the jumps are seamless– that’s the current challenge that every dealer is, or should be, grappling with.
An omnichannel approach to marketing and sales takes all of these shifts into account. It integrates the shopping, buying, and owning processes across platforms and channels so that every move is part of one holistic strategy. Dealers who have embraced the omnichannel approach recognize how important it is to give every customer the best experience, wherever they might interact with them. This is a lot more challenging than it used to be– when users were confined to a multichannel process, dealers simply optimized each individual channel and interaction. Every email, phone call, and the sale might have been critically examined, but without thinking about the overall process that a customer goes through. With the omnichannel approach, the entire experience is optimized for each customer, no matter what stage of the funnel they find themselves.
Before diving into how dealers can and should be changing their strategies in an omnichannel world, let’s identify where these jumps and shifts are taking place, and how the customer experience has changed:
Customers now interact with dealerships on several different platforms, often with no warning or appointment set prior. Throughout their buying process, a shopper might communicate with a dealer by email, phone, text message, on Facebook messenger, via a mobile app, and, of course, in person. Each form of communication is used at a different time and for a different purpose, but make up important parts of the process nonetheless. Each need to function well independently, as well as together.
It’s well-known that shoppers are conducting more and more research online, before setting foot inside of a dealership. In fact, 75% of the average person’s total shopping time(1) is spent online. That’s not to say that shoppers are forgoing a visit to the dealership store, though. 88% of customers said they would not buy a car without first test-driving it(1). Once someone does test drive a vehicle, they might then jump back to the dealer’s website, whether to learn more about the F&I process, read reviews, or more. This is just one of the shifts that can take place in the omnichannel car-buying process of today. One study found that car buyers typically shift(2) between online and offline channels at least four times.
Even when speaking only of a person’s digital experience, and forgetting any interaction they might have in person, there are a few different channels that can be used. First, most customers now utilize both desktop and mobile devices throughout their car-buying journey. CarBuyer predicts that by 2020, 80% of shoppers will use multiple devices to shop for a car(1). Further, a dealer’s online presence is no longer confined to their own website. Social media platforms, review sites, and search engines all play important roles in a shopper’s buying process.
With all of this in mind, dealers should wonder: what does the shift to omnichannel shopping mean for them? How can they continue to succeed, when they have no idea when or how a customer will interact with them? How should resources be divided, if every shopper demands the best experience on every channel?
Especially knowing that 70% of customers are leading their own shopping journey(3), it’s impossible for a dealership to predict exactly how each shopper is going to interact and behave. That being the case, it’s even more important to identify tools that both optimize one individual channel, as well as the overall buying process with all of its shifts and pivots. Keeping this in mind, there are several strategies dealers can deploy:
Because a shopper can move seamlessly between several different channels while “interacting” with a dealership, they expect their preferences to move with them. At the most basic level, when someone communicates with a dealer via email, they expect a follow-up phone call to be based on that previous conversation, even though it was on a different medium.
Unfortunately, today’s shoppers expect a lot more than that. Their expectations are based on experiences on websites like Amazon, where they are shown recommendations and products based on previous purchases and searches. So when it comes to your dealership, they also expect that every interaction, both online and in person, is based on previous ones. Utilizing AI-powered tools on your site will give every customer a highly personalized experience, and will provide your sales team with valuable lead data with which to approach a customer. This is the essence of optimizing an omnichannel approach: tracking all interactions automatically so that every follow-up interaction is customized to each specific person.
Optimized experiences, online and in-store
Knowing that customers will interact with your dealership both online and in your showroom, you need to be sure that both are functioning optimally, individually as well as together. Take for example a shopper who orders groceries online, for pick-up in the store later. Obviously they expect their online experience to be easy, quick, and user-friendly. The buying experience does not end there, though– the in-store experience of picking up the package needs to be optimal as well. Shoppers should be able to quickly pick up their groceries, with no missing or extra products. In the same way, if your website is fully optimized but your showroom is not, the customer will think negatively of the entire experience.To a customer, there is no distinction between the two– they are parts of the same process. To win favor with a shopper, every interaction they have needs to be a positive one. All channels should simply be extensions of one another.
Customers are also looking for an omnichannel approach when it comes to the actual purchase of a vehicle. While most will come into your physical dealership to complete the sale, 70% of shoppers have said that they want to be able to complete the F&I process online. They’re also happiest when they spend less time at the dealership– customer satisfaction is highest within the first 90 minutes at a store, after which time that figure begins to drop steadily(4). Car buyers want the process to be easier, and will leave your store happier if you give them a seamless experience. Happy customers are more likely to write reviews, recommend your dealership to their friends and family, and return for service and their next purchase.
It can be hard to define an omnichannel strategy, as it must take into account every possible shift that any customer might take in their buying process. Each shopper is unique and their journey into your store is going to be unique. This is why your dealership needs to stop thinking about how to optimize each individual tool and part of the process, and start thinking about optimizing the process as a whole. Of course each individual step will need to perform well– that is the basis of an omnichannel approach. What is becoming more important, though, is ensuring that all of your tools interact and “speak” to one another, so that a customer is not asked for the same information more than once, receives personalized attention throughout, and comes out feeling that the whole process was efficient and effective. This feeling is not just a feeling– with an omnichannel approach, your entire marketing strategy really does revolve around the user and their needs, no matter who or what they are.
Author: Shoshana DuBow
Shoshana DuBow is the Sales Operations Manager at AutoLeadStar. Holding an MBA, and bringing a wide variety of professional experience to her position, including real estate management, teaching, and marketing, she is constantly looking for creative ways to improve sales processes. Shoshana is always open to industry collaboration, so please reach out.