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Wards Industry Voices contributor Katie Wilkins of

Car Dealers Can Cash in on New Currency of Convenience

Steps auto retailers can take to arm themselves for a sales future that’s more digital, flexible and consumer-first.

The digital storefront, now more than ever, is essential to the survival of the modern auto dealership.

Digital behaviors deemed essential to operations during social distancing and stay-at-home orders are expected to continue after this period has passed. During it, dealers have offered customers new tools or reminded them they could shift their shopping activity online, and many consumers have responded by adapting to this process. 

With experience, customers are finding they prefer to carry out the purchase process from the comfort of home.

So, are social-distancing mandates shining a spotlight on convenience as a valuable currency? From digital retailing on dealer websites, to sales conversations via Skype and Facetime, will digital conveniences spotlighted by current events permanently change the shopper journey?

We will examine the lasting impact that remote shopping behaviors might have on digital strategy, and how dealers can best position themselves for the future.

Let’s start by recognizing that consumers who cannot come to the physical dealership still are shopping. 

A Cox Automotive COVID-19 Impact Study shows that 66% of shoppers are not delaying a vehicle purchase. However, 61% stated they were much less likely or somewhat less likely to visit a dealership. 

You may ask how these numbers work, and the answer lies in digital storefronts.  Dealers who have been slow to adopt and adapt found themselves at a disadvantage, but there are steps they can take to arm themselves for a more digital, more flexible, more consumer-first sales future.

Communicate Online

Critical communication tools include chat, video chat, virtual walkarounds, Skype, and Facetime.

These modern conveniences are helping dealers through this challenging time. Many consumers are already familiar with them, so there is little to no work in educating them.

There are countless situations where traditional communication options, such as calling on the phone or speaking in person at the dealership, aren’t ideal. By assisting shoppers in the moment and way they want to engage, dealers are moving the research phase of their journey forward and optimizing the experience.

Accelerate Sales

Online deal-making and digital retailing tools help remote consumers move their purchase forward.

Digital Retail engagement rates grew by 25% since the beginning of March and, despite a general decline in overall website leads, we were seeing digital-retailing deal and credit applications up 13% compared with the end of February. 

It’s important to recognize there isn’t a cookie-cutter sales process; some shoppers like to engage face-to-face and test drive multiple vehicles, while others prefer to complete the purchase online and have the vehicle delivered to their home to test drive. 

Dealerships that facilitate shopping in any way the customer chooses are the ones that will win in the new age of automotive shopping. 

Personalize Content

Personalization allows shoppers to efficiently find content of interest, automates campaign creation and drives 2.5 times higher click-through rates. 

In March, saw 28% more Vehicle Detail Page views and 99% more form submissions on brands running zero-percent financing and deferred payment incentives. 

Dealers can automatically generate assets for these highly engaging incentives and use personalization algorithm technology to put the right one in front of that shopper based on their browsing history. 

Without lifting a finger, a dealership can get real-time assets like slideshows, banners and specials pages tailored to particular consumer preferences. 

Some dealers have found success navigating 100% remote sales. The approaches and methods listed above are good habits to adopt now.

After social distancing orders are lifted there are two things that are likely to happen.

First, we are going to see pent-up demand, and dealerships will need tools to handle it efficiently, maximizing sales opportunities while also being mindful of costs.

Second, people are going to gravitate back to their busy lifestyles. The need for convenient shopping options – accelerated and proven during this period – will remain and permanently influence the purchase experience.

Katie Wilkins is the senior director-product management at  

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