Change is now the rule when it comes to the world of retailing cars. It has been since 2008-09, when the Great Recession and its terrible consequences created an Automotive Depression never before seen: too few buyers, too many cars for sale, sitting on lots, not moving, not selling, just collecting rust. I recall flying into Detroit during the worst of those years and seeing row after row of unsaleable new cars parked on airport lots. Just parked.
The entire industry was parked.
Today, we’re well back from that dark place – and then some. The year’s sales are on a torrid pace; dealerships are renovating and automakers are expanding model lines. Still, as a partial result of those years, change seems now to be in constant overdrive. No matter what side of the business you’re in, we all sort of look over our shoulder a bit at what that might mean, and to get a glimpse of what might be coming.
This time, that change is centered on the very way cars are sold. From progressive retail ideas and methods to the Tesla “revolution,” the way dealerships approach consumers will one day be different than it is today. Heck, it’s evolving now. There is no longer room for the three-hour sale.
Instead, consider that the sale of a car could be enabled by the practical use of digital tools, and finished by an amazing showroom experience supported by digital connections and data knowledge. Just think: those two key components — digital and showroom — working together to create a personalized and efficient purchase experience. Is it pie in the sky? Maybe. But many people are probably already doing it. A customer visits a dealer website, configures their car, saves it – and takes care of financing approvals and pricing via a combination of texting, chat and digital tools. Then they set an appointment, test drive their car and take delivery with a splendid showroom experience that creates a local and solid relationship, a connection that’s paid off in service calls and future business.
It’s an evolution. Not a revolution.
And it seems that we’re headed down a path that takes us somewhere like that. After all, hundreds of current studies suggest that people are spending more time researching online and less time visiting dealerships. And if that’s so – if consumers, armed with smart phones and tablets, are able to winnow down that dealership decision to “1.34232”, then the digital experience is the driving force from top to bottom.
Is it treated that way at your dealership?
I think a dealership website is the most important sales and marketing tool of all because it combines two great assets: people and cars. As such (and proven by strong close-to-sale ratios compared to third party and automaker sites) they should execute at a level of refinement consumers expect from major retailers. I think that dealership teams should be well-versed in digital best practices and consumer behavior. And that there ought to be a person at a dealership who knows how to create the kind of content that properly represents the cars, the brand, the people and the role the store has carved out in the community. Not to mention the values that help define how business is done.
Stephen Covey once spoke about how digital devices were just tools, and should never become masters of our time. In that spirit, it’s the same for automotive retail: digital tools help create a positive experience for consumers, who in turn buy cars and come back for service. Those dealerships that use those tools to create one experience, blending the power of digital tools with a friendly and engaging local showroom experience, why, they will create a winning combination and may one day become leaders of the change in front of us today. Those innovators are not slaves to digital currency. They are the masters of it.
The change that’s coming is going to happen, one way or another. And probably sooner than we think. The only question is whether or not we’re ready to move forward, or oxidize while parked.