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“Let them know your approach,” Clawson says. “Let them know you wipe down (sanitize) cars, offer touchless payments or if you are working by appointment- only.”

Car Dealers Go to Plan B, C, D

“The dealership world is crazy now,” says Podium’s Jordan Reid during an American International Automobile Dealers Assn. online event.

Car dealers, who had relied a lot on in-person engagement with customers, are discovering alternative ways to communicate with them effectively.

“Communicating isn’t going away, but the experience is different,” says Thomas Clawson, demand generation manager-auto at Podium, a provider of messaging tools for auto dealers.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shut down dealership sales operations in many states and led to online-only sales in others.

“Dealers are forced into a different way of doing business,” says Jordan Reid, Podium’s automotive sales director. He joins Clawson at an American International Automobile Dealers Assn. webinar, “Shifting Business from In-Person to Online.”

“It may end up being a benefit,” Reid says, referring to the expanded use of online dealership-customer communication channels, such as texting, webchats and video meetings.  

“Ninety percent of customers prefer texting,” he says. “But the whole experience has to be easy and efficient. Consumers take the path of least resistance.”

Vehicle sales are way down because of pandemic-related public-health restrictions that have stymied the auto industry and so many other businesses.

U.S. light-vehicle sales appear to be tracking toward a 7.0 million to 8.0 million-unit seasonally adjusted annual rate in April, down from March’s virus-impacted 11.4 million, and less than half the 16.8 million the entire year was expected to average prior to COVID-19 seizing up the economy, according to Wards Intelligence.

Consumer confidence is low, “but that doesn’t mean people won’t buy or get a quote or ask about financing,” Clawson says. “Communicate with them where they are.”

He recommends dealer websites make it clear which departments are open and which aren’t. (In several states, dealership parts and service operations remain open as essential businesses, while showrooms are closed.)

“Let them know your approach,” Clawson adds. “Let them know you wipe down (sanitize) cars, offer touchless payments or whether you are working by appointment-only. Communicate on their preferred channel. It’s the one-on-one experience without being in person.”

Think about the customer journey going forth – but without people leaving their homes, he adds.

It’s a different world.

Reid predicts things will get less topsy-turvy soon. “The dealership world is crazy now, but we’re going to be better for it.”  

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