Customers Zig, Zag and U-Turn to Car Dealerships

Sure, a lot of people start online and then go to the store. “But more go to the store, then online,” says Michelle Denogean of Roadster.

Steve Finlay, Contributing Editor

December 2, 2019

3 Min Read
online car shoppers
Nearly 28% of consumers who use Roadster do so after hours. That climbs to 37% on Sundays when many dealerships are closed.Getty Images

Conventional wisdom holds that today’s car-buying journey is linear, going directly from online to offline at the dealership to wrap things up.

In reality, the customer journey to the sale zigs and zags and even u-turns, particularly for modern automotive consumers who rely on the Internet to keep things moving.

So says Michelle Denogean, chief marketing officer for Roadster. It provides software to dealers that lets customers do just about an entire car deal online. That includes selecting models, building deals (within dealer-set parameters) arranging credit, shopping for F&I products and valuating trade-ins.

But consumer behavior is nothing if not varied.

For example, some people start online, go to the dealership to, say, take a test drive, then go home to finish the transaction online, she tells Wards.

Michelle Denogean black and white.jpg

Michelle Denogean black and white

Sure, a lot of people start online and then go right to the store. “But more go to the store, then online,” Denogean tells Wards, citing Roadster research. “And a lot of shoppers start online, go to the dealership, then finish the transaction at home.” (Michelle Denogean, left) 

Among other things, Roadster software allows dealer clients to track user behavior as to what particular vehicles a customer showed a digital interest in. When the dealer has such information, it can lead to a more engaging dealership experience – whenever and where ever that may be.

“It’s not like ‘Groundhog Day,’” she says citing a movie about an imaginary repetitive experience. “It’s not like someone who has done a lot of online work goes to the dealership and has to start from scratch.”

That’s because by reviewing the garnered online customer data, conscientious dealership salespeople already know where in the sales process shoppers are at after they go to the store and identify themselves.

Much of the attraction to technologically enhanced online car shopping centers on it saving time. It’s presumably not so much that typical car shoppers want to skirt the dealership as much as possible.

Rather, they mainly want to avoid spending hours and hours there doing a deal, Denogean says.

“It’s about, ‘What part of the process I can do myself, so I don’t have to spend as much time at the dealership?’”

One dealership client that includes the Roadster tool on its website has reduced average customer time spent at the dealership from 2.5 hours to 30 minutes.

Actually, 2.5 hours is a relatively short stay at a dealership, considering some in-store doings can exceed five hours, Denogean says.

Roadster clients include Longo Toyota, the country’s largest-volume Toyota dealership near Los Angeles. Automaker clients in connection with certified digital retailing programs include Audi, Hyundai, Lexus, Mercedes-Benz, Subaru, Toyota and Volkswagen.  

“The market is ripe for change,” Denogean says while referring to technology that shortens dealership visits because consumers can do so much on their own online.

Both dealers and customers “are looking for tools that streamline the process” and allow for “deals to happen at any time,” she says.

Nearly 28% of consumers who use Roadster do so after hours. That climbs to 37% on Sundays when many dealerships are closed.

Carvana and Carmax are used-car dealership chains that have fostered customer-friendly reputations by offering customers digital tools to shop and buy.

Denogean says there’s no reason franchised dealerships can’t compete with those two tech-centric auto retailers on their own ground.

Here’s what she suggests dealers do to keep up:

  • Modernize the user experience.

  • Think end-to-end, paying attention to the customer experience both inside and outside the showroom.

  • Be transparent.

  • Save everyone time (including yourself). “Selling more cars in less time is good for the dealership.”

  • Offer flexibility. “Let people shop the way they want.”

  • Use in-store technology that helps the dealership pick up where customers left off when they logged off and headed to the store.

  • Empower the team.

  • Focus on gauging business with net promoter scores (NPS). Those are calculated by taking the number of customers who promote a business and subtracting the number of unsatisfied customers, or “detractors.” 

“In 2016, the NPS for auto retailing was 48,” Denogean says. “That’s dropped to 39 today. Dealers are shocked, because they feel they’ve done so much to improve the customer experience better. But really, time is such a factor.”       

About the Author(s)

Steve Finlay

Contributing Editor, WardsAuto

Steven Finlay is a former longtime editor for WardsAuto. He writes about a range of topics including automotive dealers and issues that impact their business.

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