It is no secret the car-buying process has evolved from an in-person experience to an increasingly digital one over the past 15-20 years. This has been even further accelerated by the COVID related events of this year. Whereas until recently the online customer experience was mostly tied to research and narrowing down vehicle choices, the transactional element has come into greater play with everything from trades to final paperwork being processed online a high percentage of the time. Regardless of how much of the purchase process can be completed online, there will always be a high need for the in-dealership experience.
As consumer demand for information increased, dealerships began spending a high amount of time, money and effort online to keep pace. The result was an improved online experience for the customer and a positive first impression for the dealer. In many cases, however, the in-store consumer experience became neglected resulting in a breakdown in the transition from the virtual to in-person experience. When this disconnect occurs, all the resources spent online to make a lasting first impression are wasted, often making the next closest dealer the beneficiary. No matter how technology evolves, the showroom will always be an important piece of the equation.
The perception is that showroom visits are down. This myth is proven false by a 2019 survey jointly conducted by Harris Poll and Urban Science. With nearly 2,750 buyers polled, it was uncovered that these consumers visited at least 2.4 dealerships on average prior to making a purchase. 70% visited two or more dealers, 46% visited at least three, and 26% kicked tires at four or more dealerships before driving their new car home.
In a nutshell, technology is a wonderful tool, but a virtual test drive is not a test drive and most people are still not comfortable buying a vehicle without seeing, feeling and engaging with the ever-increasing technology features firsthand. Interestingly, younger drivers are actually the ones who pushed the number upward. As Automotive News reported, Gen-Z and young millennials visited 3.8 stores on average prior to buying. They have done their research and know what they want, what ultimately determines where they buy is who made them the most comfortable and provided the best experience.
The value of the in-dealership experience is further underscored by a follow-up Harris Poll survey conducted by Urban Science earlier this year. The survey, which can be reviewed here, was looking to uncover how buyers were treating the car-buying experience in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, but it also reveals interesting information about the importance of going to the dealership in the minds of the majority of consumers.
In fact, 93% of the 1,500+ respondents to the poll had at least some concern with buying a vehicle entirely online. Further, 71% of all surveyed still believe a salesperson has unique expertise necessary to navigate the complex car-buying experience while 65% said they would not want to buy a vehicle without a dealership involved. Even in COVID times with heightened paranoia about visiting public places, the perception of the value of an in-dealership experience only declined minimally.
If the dealership is still a key piece of the journey, how do dealers not close every opportunity that walks through the door? The answer: consumers are coming in ready to buy, but not all dealers are providing a cohesive experience bridging the prospect from the online world into their physical stores. A customer who experiences a modernized journey online feels like they came to the wrong place when they leave the comfort of their homes and the screens they have grown to trust and enter a dealership where no one knows their name or even acknowledges their existence. They immediately feel as though the dealer places no value in all their efforts online and naturally assume that if their time is not valued, neither is their business.
If this is reflective of your dealership, the money, time and effort you expended online to earn the opportunity to sell a car is wasted with one uncomfortable experience by the potential buyer. They came in having put in the work of doing exhaustive research online and are ready to reward their efforts with a new vehicle. If the experience is not right and they leave, they will not return. The next dealer will reap the benefits of all your hard work. You essentially gifted them an easy sale.
The consumer has spoken. Despite the uncertainty and concern brought about by COVID and the new processes that have been added to simplify buying a vehicle, the dealership experience still matters. Your facility is still every bit as vital to selling a car as it has always been – perhaps even more – because of the journey your customers are taking to get there. Do not let it be a deterrent to sales. Earn a return on your online marketing efforts by aligning your dealership with the presence you represent on the web. If you don’t, the dealer across town will.
Automotive Broadcasting Network has been at the forefront of providing cohesive customer experiences from first click to deal close for more than a decade. Our digital signage solutions combine cutting-edge technology with engaging, compelling content that supports the marketing of your manufacturer while extending your dealership brand, and we are uniquely positioned to help you ensure your customers are comfortable and connected.
Over the next few months, we will walk you through best practices your dealership can implement to align the customer’s online interactions to their in-dealership experience with a journey that begins as they take their first step through your showroom door.