Online shopping, accelerated by the COVID pandemic, has turned the car-buying experience on its head, with car shoppers benefitting from the change.
Recent reports by two expert auto industry sources suggest just how much.
Well-informed customers are becoming “commonplace” as consumer expectations rise, a former WardsAuto editor wrote in Today’s Car Dealership Customers Want More – and Get It.
The rapid shift to an online sales process during COVID is at the center of the change.
Before the internet became such a powerful information source for consumers they were not as well-informed during the vehicle-purchase process, WardsAuto reported. “Their product and pricing knowledge was limited to sources such as sales brochures.”
But that dealer-customer relationship has changed “as empowered car consumers do extensive online homework and consequently car shop [prepared] with real-time information.”
“Many consumers wanted to do more than just shop for and select a vehicle online,” reported The Presidio Group, a financial services firm that specializes in buying and selling car dealerships. “They wanted the same thing they get from other retailers – a seamless end-to-end purchase experience.”
“Dealerships were taking baby steps towards a true end-to-end online retail experience,” said The Presidio Group. “COVID-19 upended that strategy. Suddenly the only way dealers could sell to consumers was online. The step-by-step move to digital was replaced by a headlong rush.”
More and more, dealership sales people are described as “customer advocates” whose role is to serve as product-knowledge experts, delivering information “in a way that makes customers feel they are doing things on their own … [and] have all the information they need to make their own decision,” according to the WardsAuto report.
Among the changes that have gained traction, The Presidio Group’s reported:
– Enhancing the overall digital shopping experience
– Providing consumers the ability to search inventory online
– Enabling shoppers to arrange vehicle financing online
– Offering the ability to choose between buying and leasing
– Dealers home-delivering test-drive and purchased vehicles
– Seamless ability to transfer from online to off line during the buying process
– Dealer pick up and return vehicles for service work
Cox Automotive research found that consumers are not just asking for but demanding a “personalized, on-demand, brought-to-me” type of experience because they “are used to getting everything they need that way now,” according to The Presidio Group report.
“Today’s auto retailing is customer-centric like never before,” said WardsAuto. “Many consumers know that and expect dealers to treat them accordingly.”
One senior dealership executive quoted by WardsAuto put the new normal this way:
“I like to think of it as meeting consumers at their moment of need. Since the pandemic, we’re seeing customers demand things they’ve never demanded before. It boils down to meeting them at the right level, at the right time and with the right information. It goes so far as to anticipating their needs.”
The changes demonstrate that dealers are willing to go the extra mile to help their customers.