I’m a Millennial and Guess What: I’m Not Buying My Next Car Online

As I watch the impact of COVID-19 unfold, and its role as a catalyst for dealer-tech adoption, here’s how I see it: The industry is jumping to too many conclusions about what and how I will buy my vehicle.

September 25, 2020

5 Min Read
Millennial shopper
Online research just first step in car shopping for many millennials.

Yes, I’m a millennial: I use my mother’s Netflix account and my father’s Amazon Prime and the only SaaS (software-as-a-service) I actually pay for is Spotify because I’m pretty sure my parents are not even aware of the app.

I wake up and check social media before the actual news, and drink more cheap Rose wine than you can imagine.

But, contrary to the latest hype in automotive, I am not going to buy my next car online. As a millennial (who also happens to be a marketer), I have a lot to share on this topic.Industry-Voices-bug (002).jpg

Industry-Voices-bug (002)_0

I don’t see a car purchase as just another pair of shoes or household essential I’m restocking. While I have an intuitive sense of how to shop for most consumer products, this is a different scale. It’s the second biggest purchase for most people, and as a millennial, this would be one of my biggest purchases yet.

That’s not to say I won’t come to the dealership after hours of research and a sense of entitlement, if you will, to get the best deal that I’m sure I have already found online before even stepping into the showroom.

As I watch the impact of COVID-19 unfold, and its role as a catalyst for dealer-tech adoption, here’s how I see it: The industry is jumping to too many conclusions about what and how I will buy my vehicle.

While I have my assumptions about other emerging markets (single-car suburban families, previous public transportation commuters, New Yorkers…) I’ll shed some light about the fellow millennials I represent and what I’d expect to see in the era of COVID-19 and 2020 digital marketing.

What will I do as an in-market shopper?

I’ll do endless research online. For most of us, that means Google searches, clicking on one of the first local websites that show up, but then getting quickly distracted by something else. Because of this, I rely on the ads that appear in social media feeds to remind me of my shopping endeavors. Note to dealerships and OEMs: this tactic does not creep us out anymore, we expect this to happen! And when it does, I click on the ad and continue to the website. Given my high expectations and ability to multitask, if I don’t feel like I’m shopping on Amazon, I won’t stay long.

So what do I expect as a millennial shopper, and as a marketer?

  • No fullscreen interruptions, and that includes Coronavirus updates. I’m sure your dealership is taking precautions, and the generic pop-up merely interrupts my browsing experience.

  • Capable, reliable, fast chat. This means I want to talk to anyone or anything that can give me answers – specials, inventory, hours and everything in between.

  • Streamlined and personalized experience. If I visited your website before, remember me or I’ll probably be insulted (literally). Take me to the vehicle pages I care about, offer relevant specials based on my browsing history and retarget me where it matters. Take it from me, none of us will be engaged long enough for one website visit to suffice.

What’s holding me back from buying my car 100% online?

Your world-class showroom experience is now irrelevant in the COVID era, so all the game is in the digital experience. When dealers can’t use free manicures and popcorn machines to lure me in, it’s all about digital diligence.

So once I’ve searched, researched and searched again, I’m coming in. I’m just not ready for the digital checkout, even with the challenges COVID presents. I’d prefer to rock the “mask and glove” look at the dealership in exchange for full confidence in my purchase.

Here are a few other items that need serious reworking when appealing to millennial buyers:

  • Most millennials are not familiar with the F&I process. Forget pitching me with featured videos or warranty options digitally. While I understand the importance of paint and dent protection on the surface (no pun intended), I’d rather have a person walk me through the details to understand risk assessment and negotiate the best deal.

  • My friends and I are extremely skeptical of putting in Social Security details for credit pulls. (We’ve all seen our grandparents get scammed one too many times through fake phone calls.) I will give you my credit details in-person, however, as there’s something more trusting about this.

  • A long checkout process is off-putting. See Amazon mentioned above. We want quick, seamless and personalized.

  • There is simply nothing that replaces the feeling of driving a physical car on a test drive, whether you’re a 30-year loyal customer or a first-time buyer.

So has COVID-19 accelerated dealer-technology adoption? Absolutely.Ilana hi-res headshot (001).jpg

Ilana hi-res headshot (001)

But the focus should not be on selling me, a millennial, a car entirely online. It should be on cleaning up the aging infrastructure of digital marketing to make it more personalized to my experience on and off the website.

Understand which millennials will make the leap to full digital checkouts and which ones won’t. The dealerships that can leverage individual buyer data based on shopper preference to test, adopt and deploy marketing messages instantly are the dealers that will thrive in this COVID era.

Now if you can just hand me a glass of Rose…

Ilana Shabtay (above) is director of marketing at AutoLeadStar.

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