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Small adjustments can mean big business

Tune-Up Your Test Drives to Speed Sales

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Article Highlights

  1. According to the Cox Automotive 2017 Car Buyer Journey Study, only 32% of consumers know the exact vehicle they want when they start car shopping online, but 55% test drive only one vehicle- the one they purchase. This is strong evidence that decision-making is happening online prior to contacting the dealership and that the test drive is an all-important clincher to the purchase.
  2. The test drive serves as a critical “checkpoint” in the consumer’s car buying journey, confirming that they want to move forward with the buying process.
  3. Focus less on closing a sale during the test drive experience and more on creating a fun, comfortable and informative “meet-and-greet” for the consumer and the vehicle.

According to the Cox Automotive 2017 Car Buyer Journey Study, only 32% of consumers know the exact vehicle they want when they start car shopping online, but 55% test drive only one vehicle- the one they purchase. This is strong evidence that decision-making is happening online prior to contacting the dealership and that the test drive is an all-important clincher to the purchase.

The test drive serves as a critical “checkpoint” in the consumer’s car buying journey, confirming that they want to move forward with the buying process in several ways by:

  • Promoting mental ownership by the consumer when they experience (touch, see, smell) the vehicle
  • Giving consumers piece of mind and removing “the car” as an objection when it is time to negotiate
  • Encouraging questions about the vehicle during the drive experience so they can be addressed, used as selling features and removed from becoming objections later
  • Providing the opportunity to show the test drive vehicle’s superiority over comparable cars they may be considering

Autotrader’s Car Buyer of the Future Study looked at the current shopping, buying and ownership process and asked more than 4,002 consumers about their ideal process. Only 17 car shoppers and buyers out of 4,002 — that’s less than 1% — chose the current process as their ideal experience. But there is good news for the automotive industry as the study also revealed that simple adjustments to the process can lead to drastic improvements.

The study revealed that test drives still play an important role in the future. In fact, 88% of consumers said they would not purchase a car without test-driving it first, yet 81% of consumers prefer a different test-drive experience than the traditional accompanied test-drive model that predominantly exists today.

The key to successful test-drives are ones that center on convenience for car shoppers and low sales pressure. The study explored various alternative options — some real, some hypothetical — to the current accompanied test-drive. Consumers in the study preferred home test-drives, or test-drive centers that allowed them to drive different makes and models, or “unlock” test drives that allow them to visit the dealership at any time and conduct a test-drive on their own.

Technology can make or break the test drive experience. Six percent of new cars sold last year had Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which display many of your smartphone’s apps on the touchscreen. That’s expected to rise to 50 percent by 2020, according to IHS Markit.

Car shopping site Autotrader.com has found that as many as one-third of buyers will choose a different vehicle if they think a vehicle’s tech features are too hard to use.*

Here are some tips for improving the test drive experience

  • TAKE YOUR TIME: Test driving the technology should take at least 45 minutes, says Brian Moody, the executive editor at Autotrader.com. Allow the consumer to develop an emotional connection with the car. Confirm that their phone is compatible with the car and show them how to pair it. Have them call a friend or family member from the car.
  • STAY FLEXIBLE: Even if a consumer has settled on a vehicle, test-drives should allow consumers to learn more about different models. They might prefer climate controls on a touchscreen instead of on dashboard knobs, or easier-to-use buttons on the steering wheel for making calls or adjusting volume.
  • DON’T FORGET SAFETY: Warn consumers what they will see and feel ahead of time, so they aren’t startled or caught off-guard (emotions no one enjoys). Lane departure warning systems, backup cameras and blind-spot detection systems work differently depending on the car. Some lane departure systems buzz the seat if you drift out of your lane, for example, while others beep loudly.

Bottom line is focus less on closing a sale during the test drive experience and more on creating a fun, comfortable and informative “meet-and-greet” for the consumer and the vehicle. The right car but wrong experience won’t add up to a sale. However, these small adjustments to your test drive approach will earn a car buyer’s business and higher customer satisfaction.

Steve Lind serves as Senior Vice President of Operations and General Manager of Autotrader, for Cox Automotive Media Solutions Group. Steve’s primary focus is growing the Autotrader brand by spearheading new alignment opportunities, improving existing systems and laying the foundation for an enhanced future work state. 

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