Harnessing Digital Retailing for Your Dealership

What Dealerships Need to Do About Digital Retailing In 2020

This situation may feel familiar to you from a consumer perspective: you decide that you want to buy a car, so you fill out a form online to request a call from a dealership. You have given them all your pertinent personal information they need to help you with your purchase or problem. When the dealership calls you back, you’re not available. So, you return the call and explain who you are, what you need, and when. But the person taking the call didn’t record the details properly and then you have to explain it all over again when you speak with the representative. Frustrating, right?

Buyers want to feel not only valued but seen. They want you to know who you are, what they need, and that you’re ready to help them through the process quickly and efficiently. With that kind of treatment, they are more likely to go back to your dealership again and again. Apply these tenets to the online and offline buying process at your business and establish a smooth transition from research to shopping to purchase without a hitch. It’s within your power to ensure that every potential customer who finds your dealership online and is led to your door finds that you have it all under control with their best interests in mind.

Connect the dots

What is digital retailing, anyway? For starters, it’s not the same as digital marketing, which includes your social media channels, online advertisements, chatbots, and even the face of your site. Digitalization impacts everything from customer acquisition and vehicle delivery to post-sale services. From customer data analytics, remote servicing and predictive maintenance — the way vehicles are purchased, distributed and serviced is changing dramatically.

Digital retailing is creating a virtual footpath for your customers to follow. And like our customer service example above, offering a complete journey that empowers your customers to take more control of their experience frees you up to focus on the details that will not only seal the sale but bring them back with an army of friends.

In an article published in 2019 in Wards Auto, Kelly Mulroney of Cox Automotive says that applying digital retailing to a business is not just enabling technology; it’s a mindset.

“Digital retailing can help dealers reach a wider set of consumers and create an experience that differentiates their dealership from others,” Mulroney says. “They can provide a more positive, personalized and seamless experience to the shoppers while still enabling consumers to feel in control.”

More than ever before, people refer to the internet for information, advice, and entertainment. Indeed, the IHS Automotive Autotrader Automotive Buyer Influence Study as far back as 2015 showed that automotive consumers rely on digital tools for researching cars, spending up to 75 percent of their shopping time online. When they find your dealership’s site, it’s your chance to take them by the hand and guide them through the whole buying process so seamlessly that they’ll be primed and not only ready to buy but eager to do so.

Connecting the dots for your customers might look something like this:

  • Stock your site with simple, easy-to-read information to inform and delight
  • Ensure that when the potential customer is ready to take the next step, they can find contact information quickly and easily.
  • Point your new customer in the direction of digital, e-signature-ready forms online to get the process started from the comfort of their home.
  • Gather their information and establish preferred modes of conversation. Text? Great. Phone? No problem. Email? You’ve got this.

As you update and adjust your process, test and test and test again. Get fresh pairs of eyes to go through the progression and fix any snags along the way.

What your customer wants

Your customers may or may not know what they want when they walk in the door of your dealership, and this is where your digital retailing strategy will become apparent. For those who have done their research, it’s a matter of setting them on a clear path. First, point them to pricing that matches what they’ve seen online. Then glide over to a financing and insurance process that applies as soon as their input is ascertained. You’ll know exactly what kind of trade-in value to offer them. And the dreaded, tedious paperwork of the past has been transformed into a modern experience. Even for customers just browsing and forming initial thoughts on what kind of vehicle they might want to purchase will gain confidence in your dealership seeing the tools you have at your fingertips. And when they walk out the door, they know that you’ll be ready to make the process an enjoyable and painless one when they come back with a decision.

Preparation is the bottom line, as customers still want to do things their way. After all, 90% of consumers prefer a unique, personalized car-buying experience, according to 2018 Cox Automotive Future of Digital Retail Study. Some want a zippy path straight through from research to financing to purchase and they want to stop by the dealership to sign their name on the dotted line and pick up the keys. Others need more information and more time to consider the options. By updating digital retailing with an omni-channel approach to please a variety of buyers, you’re showing buyers that you’re serious about holding their place in line. You have all of their details and preferences logged and they don’t have to start over each time; they are empowered and in control without pressure and they’ll find their comfort zone to buy.

Mulroney says digital retailing enables consumers to shop for cars the way they want.

“They can search and find their next vehicle on their time and terms,” she says. “It builds trust and transparency because the consumer has a consistent experience whether online and instore and speeds up the process for the car buyer and dealer. The 2019 Cox Automotive Car Buyer Journey showed that nearly three-quarters of car buyers who completed paperwork online were satisfied with the experience.”

Connecting back office to your customer experience

Digital retailing can go beyond your marketing, web and lot experience to include the back-office operations.

Imagine that a previous customer who likes and trusts you and your dealership reaches out to start talking about buying a new car. Normally, if your dealership doesn’t have the car they want, you could lose the sale. However, with an online auction platform like ACV Auctions, you can input the customer’s requirements, find another dealer that is selling the car wholesale, and win the vehicle in as few as 20 minutes.

What’s more, you can have a potential buyer provide appraisal figures, and within another 20 minutes, the dealer can provide a competitive trade-in value based on what a dealer will pay for the vehicle. Finally, the customer can purchase their new car with the confidence of ACV’s industry-leading vehicle condition reporting. That connection hits all the marks of the ideal digital retailing experience – personalized, seamless and transparent.
It’s clear that building a digital retailing strategy is the way forward for 2020 and beyond. If you haven’t started already, it’s not too late to evaluate your process and make the changes you need to build and grow.