Trends to Track at Car Dealerships in 2020

Omnichannel growth (and real humans) will triumph over tools.

December 19, 2019

3 Min Read
salesperson with customer in showroom
Team training improves the sales process.Getty Images

When I think ahead to 2020 trends in the automotive industry, the ever-changing car dealership ecosystem is top of mind.

How are dealerships working through today’s challenges to deliver customer service excellence? Will they take the right steps in properly managing and optimizing their teams, customers and partners?

Here are two trends to watch in 2020.

Omnichannel Growth

“Omnichannel” is a buzzword that has taken the industry by storm in recent years. But what does it really mean?

Basically, it all comes down to offering customers many – or all – ways to engage with your brand and vehicles. A survey by Google, Millard Brown Digital, and Polk, found that the average customer engages in 24 actions before buying a vehicle.

Those actions can range from performing online research, scouring ads in publications or watching commercials on television.

Today’s information age has enabled customers to shop in a way that is convenient for them. Gone are the days when dealerships have the transactional upper hand. Customers are walking into dealerships more educated and empowered than ever before because of online research tools and various buying options.

Dealerships need to personalize and streamline, offering a more efficient buying experience.

The average car is 11.5 years old. Some consumers have not bought a car in more than five years. Think about that. How much has your sales process changed in five years? I’m assuming a lot.

At dealerships five years ago, you may have overheard sales managers telling sales associates, “Just get the customer in the door.” That approach does not work anymore.

Dealerships need to capitalize on a better overall shopping experience. If dealerships are hesitant to embrace a soup-to-nuts omnichannel experience, they can start small. Here are three ideas for getting started:

  • Work with a digital-advertising agency to create buyer personas so you can better understand your customers.

  • Ensure your social media approach ties into your overall brand story.

  • Optimize your mobile site to offer a superior shopping experience.

In 2020, omnichannel will become the primary way automotive consumers begin shopping for vehicles. As a result, manufacturers will need to figure out how to compete with digital, while paying close attention to Carvana and CarMax.

Developing People Over Tools

In 2020, I anticipate a dramatically decreased focus on tools and an increased emphasis on a dealership’s ability to become more process-oriented. Winning dealerships will double-down on training staff to increase expertise, and in turn, optimize a high-touch dealership experience.

As used and new-car dealerships are rapidly digitizing, they are continuing to have high turnover with sales staff. Dealership profits have decreased over time, while the F&I and service departments continue to generate revenue.

Why? Because these departments are highly focused on transparent, engaging experiences.

It’s time to take the same approach with used-car pricing. Take CarMax, for example. They get a premium for their cars because the customers demanded (and got) a different buying experience.

CarMax invested in their people with significant training, role-playing, development, and detailed succession planning – all big wins for this organization to continue driving growth.

Dealerships must improve the customer experience and focus on their people by investing in team training. This strategy will improve the sales process, which can be impersonal and off-putting to customers when not done right.

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Troy Blackwell_0

Another approach is to cross-train sales managers with the function of finance managers. Customers dislike being shuffled from person to person. Find a way to implement a one-person process, so customers receive white-glove service. (Wards Industry Voices contributor Troy Blackwell.)  

Auto retailing faces unique challenges that will only be amplified. How will you address those challenges in 2020?

Troy Blackwell is the chief operating officer of NuVinAir Global, which offers a vehicle-cleaning process for automotive businesses. He formerly worked for AutoNation and CarMax. Contact him at [email protected].

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