- Digital retailing does not remove the salesperson, or the showroom, from the sale. The simple objective is to provide information that’s personalized, speed up the process, and improve communication.
- By the time they arrive at the dealership, many shoppers are much closer to making a final purchase decision. That’s why getting to “yes” online is more important than ever.
- Nearly 80% of American consumers point to speed, convenience, knowledgeable help, and friendly service as key factors for what truly makes a good customer experience. And one big connector: human touch — that is, creating real connections by making technology feel more human and giving employees what they need to create better customer experiences.
Here we are in 2019, and it’s fair to assume that just about every dealership general manager or sales manager in America has heard about digital retailing. It’s also a reasonable assumption that some are all-in when it comes to adopting digital retailing, while others remain skeptical – and even more are unclear about the potential benefits to their business.
The confusion is understandable. On its face, the concept of “digital retailing” sounds like digital platforms and software solutions meant to replace dealership sales; a scorched-earth scenario of Amazon-like e-commerce where consumers purchase a vehicle online.
But that’s not digital retailing.
Digital retailing does not remove the salesperson, or the showroom, from the sale. The simple objective is to provide information that’s personalized, speed up the process, and improve communication. It improves the most important aspects of any retail transaction by increasing transparency and giving insights to the salesperson, opening up the customer information pipeline, and enabling dialogue with consumers earlier in the process. That makes vehicle transactions faster, and customer relationships stronger, in part because it taps into what consumers want: a digital component that allows them to do more steps of the shopping and buying process online.
According to the 2019 Car Buyer Journey Study, car buyers are spending less time shopping and spending fewer days in market. They now spend 96 days in market – down 22 days since 2017. Despite this shrinking window, shoppers still spend about the same amount of time online. It’s clear that the influence of digital access and shopping experiences is continuing to grow, and that by the time they arrive at the dealership, many shoppers are much closer to making a final purchase decision. That’s why getting to “yes” online is more important than ever.
Dealerships who ignore the influence of these digital experiences do so at their peril: Just like the Car Buyer Journey Study, study after study shows that our intuitive habit is to now go online. That’s not just for small Amazonian products. Even the real estate process has shifted. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), 44% of home shoppers began their search online.1 The generational shift may have something to do with that, as well: NAR reported that 99% of millennials search online, and only 56% of Gen X visited an open house.1
Of course, car dealers are definitely feeling the generational shift. With Millennials starting to supplant Baby Boomers and the emergence of Generation Z as car buyers, it serves as an important reminder that technology is a fundamental part of the daily experience for customers today, and NOT using technology to make a retail experience efficient is simply unthinkable.
The Lost Art of the Personal Connection Isn’t Lost – It’s Just Moved
But hold on for a moment. Sure, Millennials and Gen Z are tech-oriented to the point of obsession. Millennials reportedly check their phones 150 times a day!2 Yet when they have to make a decision, a surprising 80% of them rely on word-of-mouth.3 They demand the speed and convenience of online tasks but rely on the wisdom of experts to help make the final decision.4
It seems that a good salesperson is a required step, even with millennials. In fact, nearly two-thirds of consumers would still want help from dealership staff even if they could purchase online! 4 Consumers not only want dealership staff to be highly knowledgeable about the product (e.g., vehicle specs, features, technology, models, and trim levels), they also want them to act as consultants who listen to their needs in a low-pressure environment. 4
Need more proof? According to a 2018 PwC report,5 nearly 80% of American consumers point to speed, convenience, knowledgeable help, and friendly service as key factors for what truly makes a good customer experience. And one big connector: human touch — that is, creating real connections by making technology feel more human and giving employees what they need to create better customer experiences. People are increasingly loyal to the retailers, products, brands and devices that consistently provide exceptional value with minimum friction or stress. In fact, these factors are so highly valued that 52% of consumers would pay more for greater speed and efficiency; 43% for greater convenience; and 41% would pay more for knowledgeable and helpful employees.
Hello, automotive digital retailing! Speed and efficiency? Check. Greater convenience? Check. knowledgeable and helpful employees? Check!
Understanding the importance of the online environment in the car buyer’s journey, then applying digital retailing tools to activate your showroom customer experience strategy serves the overall person-to-person retail experience. Car buyers want you to remember their name. That doesn’t typically happen online, but today’s customers almost require it. And that’s what digital retailing does: it allows you to learn a shoppers’ names and make a meaningful connection with them before they ever step foot in the dealership.
The reality of today’s digital age is that people are more comfortable using digital means to initiate a first encounter – and enable a deeper connection. Case in point: around 40% of current relationships begin online.6 And, as with most things, when online dating first began in 2005, most people were skeptical. Today, attitudes have changed.7 It’s not an online dating phenomenon: roughly 70% of U.S. adults use Facebook7 – and most on a daily basis – because they appreciate how the ability to connect digitally enhances and improves human social interaction.
Sales is no different. Perhaps it’s even more so. In this age of digital connectivity, customers value human interaction that’s improved and expanded by technology – especially when the topic is something like a car sale. With that in mind, it’s all about reaching car buyers in the right way, through a digital retail experience that facilitates communication and winds up with a friendly and responsive human to make the sale and build trust. The best way to do that is through digital retailing – it’s a human-to-human journey and simply begins through an online experience.
Connect, and Sell the Online Retail Experience
Take Carvana, for example. Their success can likely be attributed to the ease and convenience of the online buying experience they sell to consumers. But their process doesn’t remove the human element from the car sale: it still allows car buyers to connect with real people during the online process. Their salespeople are available to answer customer questions and provide friendly and pressure-free consultation throughout the shopping and buying process.
Point is, no one remembers a VDP page. What they remember is the overall car-buying experience: was it easy? Was it convenient? Was it low-stress? Were there friendly salespeople to help facilitate their decision-making along the way? With digital retailing, car dealers are uniquely qualified to sell the same kind of seamless and convenient experience. To do so, focus on three things:
- Reduce wasted time at the dealership. The 2019 Car Buyer Journey Study found that car buyers were least satisfied with how long the process took. Paperwork and negotiating are still the most frustrating parts of the car-buying process – something digital retailing is particularly helpful with.
- Ensure proper training. Digital retailing leads are different; they provide lots of information about the car buyer and come with a different set of expectations around the need for first contact.
- Sell the dealership experience. The typical dealer doesn’t offer an exclusively online retail experience, but it does have the ability to provide a painless, online-to-in-store buying experience with friendly and knowledgeable experts guiding the process – within an all-in-one infrastructure meant to handle any vehicle or customer need.
Digital is a Part of a Best Practice Retail Routine
The influence of technology has forever changed the way dealerships sell cars. But the point is that dealerships are still the best place to sell and service cars, and some parts of the process will still happen inside the showroom. Eighty-nine percent of consumers say they want to sign final documents at the dealership, and 80 percent would not purchase without a test drive.4 Some day, more people may complete the entire process online, but the fact will still remain that the human part of the digital car-buying experience is just as important as the technology that powers it.