Car dealers aren’t immune from the revolution in e-commerce fueling the retail sector. Just like the sellers of jeans and sweaters, they also need to focus on the digital shopper to drive sales.
UPS recently released its sixth-annual UPS Pulse of the Online Shopper study, which again captures a consumer who is shopping more with clicks and less with bricks. When asked for percentages of purchases made in the past three months by channel, 52% answered online, while 48% reported a physical store. That’s up from 47% online and 53% in an actual store in 2014, a trend expected to quickly accelerate in the future.
If you aren’t e-savvy, it is time to switch gears. While few cars are purchased solely online, customers are starting their search there. They’re also scouring social-media channels for dealer feedback. And they increasingly will schedule a tune-up or oil change electronically.
As a result, smart car businesses have beefed up their smartphone presence, and some are going as far as investing in an app. That’s wise because a whopping 80% of shoppers – and 88% of millennials – use the Internet during the entire process, with many even bringing their smartphones to the dealership, according to research from CarGurus, an automotive website.
The average digital shopper visits 10 automotive sites – three of them dealers. Shoppers still visit the dealership for a test drive and to sign on the dotted line, but they visit fewer than two, down from five in 2011.
Here’s what the automotive sector can glean from the UPS study:
- Be personal: A meaningful customer experience is more important than ever, particularly for dealers looking to sell a car and have customers bring that vehicle back time and again for service and repairs. Strategies can include apps and mobile-ready websites that offer experiences such as store inventory visibility, high-quality product photos, rewards/loyalty programs, mobile coupons, ship-to-store options and superior customer service.
- Be advanced: Beyond websites and apps, make the customer experience better with chatbots and virtual reality. While the online shoppers surveyed reported they prefer to talk live with sales associates when in stores, they’re willing to give electronic communication a shot. Virtual reality, meanwhile, is a great way to bring products to life digitally.
- Be efficient: Restructure warehouse/distribution centers and utilize ship-from-store capabilities to reduce transportation-related costs and time in transit. This isn’t as exciting as virtual reality, but it is important for the automotive space, where customers often need pieces and parts as quickly as possible. Being efficient also will make you look smarter and savvier to a customer urgently in need of something.
- Be seamless: The days of discussing different retail channels are ending as shoppers flow between everything from websites to physical stores. Personalized service starts where customers are and continues with what suits them best. Peer reviews on social media, knowledgeable sales associates going above and beyond and new technologies such as those chatbots are a few ways consumers seamlessly interact with retailers.
- Be global: In the old days, your competition was limited to the dealerships in your area. Now, it includes parts sellers online and the e-marketplaces including Amazon and eBay. What competitive advantage can you offer? Play that up. Your market is now far beyond the local area.
Darryl Barber is marketing manager for UPS’s automotive segment. He can be reached at [email protected]