A spectrum of consumer shopping expectations existed pre-COVID-19. Typical everyday necessities we buy are on one side of the spectrum. Automotive is on the other side.
We can order groceries, and have them delivered to our doorstep within hours. With automotive, these purchases are harder to buy online and consumers often question the price and whether they can test the vehicle ahead of time. Those are just the first questions.
The spectrum was narrowing prior to the global pandemic with consumer expectations shifting and shoppers expecting to be able to shop for cars similar to how they shop for everything else in their life.
As the U.S. population practices social distancing, consumers find themselves relying on e-commerce now more than ever before. Car dealers have been under pressure to expedite their ability for fully remote car shopping and buying capabilities in the future to present-day reality.
The automotive industry and dealers have already seen success in implementing digital strategies and are prepared to handle the current new-normal for car shoppers. Consumers should take advantage of these digital solutions available to them now.
Most people associate buying a vehicle with face-to-face interactions including test drives, understanding payment and deal terms, signing paperwork and driving away in their new car
But consumer preferences and current conditions have shifted the buying experience to digital channels in many places. Consumer demand for a more digital car-shopping experience has been happening for years prior to this recent pandemic.
During this unprecedented time, we know some consumers still need a car, and can’t wait until the crisis is over to purchase one. Recent Cox Automotive data points to 72% of consumers continuing to shop for their next vehicle, but 55% saying they prefer to not visit dealerships in person.
At Autotrader, we have been working with dealers to ease the car-buying process for consumers by implementing at-home services and limiting in-person contact. Now it’s time for dealers to let people know they can enjoy a seamless and transparent car-buying experience from the comfort of their own home.
Dealers Text and FaceTime Too
The ability to connect with consumers conveniently is step one for buying a car. When shopping, dealers can utilize chat, text and email features to answer relevant questions such as a vehicle’s price, fuel economy and trim selections – the same way you would at the physical dealership.
If the consumer gets tired and takes a break, be prepared to pick the process up right where they left off, answering any outstanding questions and providing the latest vehicle information.
At some point during the process, consumers will likely want to take a tour of the vehicle before committing to buying it. But due to social-distancing measures, a showroom visit may not be a practical option.
Dealers now offer personalized video chat calls where they can walk you through the vehicle, highlight amenities and answer any questions in real-time, bringing the dealership experience to the customer.
Everyone loves a convenient experience – especially when it is brought directly to you.
Dealers are assisting the modern car shopper by arranging test drives at home, meaning the dealer will bring the desired vehicle right to the customer’s driveway.
Not only does this minimize face-to-face contact with others, it continues the shopping process in a safe and efficient way that will likely remain a popular option even in a post-social distancing world.
We have also seen dealers move quickly over to digital retailing and more virtual tooling out of necessity, but they are planning to continue using those tools even as things slowly return to our new normal.
Close to 80% of dealers are planning to continue leveraging digital retailing at the level they are now, according to a Cox Automotive study.
Dealers must prepare to meet the changing needs of consumers, and shoppers should learn more about all the digital offerings right at their fingertips.
After signing on the dotted line at the dealership, consumers would typically drive home in their new purchase. Now, paperwork can be done electronically with dealers delivering vehicles right to their driveway.
These are anxious and uncertain times. Open communication and digital resources can help create the best possible car-shopping process for all parties. (Jessica Stafford, left)
Jessica Stafford is senior vice president and general manager for Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book.