“All I wanted to do was get the price and now I own a new vehicle, that was a great experience!” This is the dream phrase every car Dealer and car salesperson wants to hear.

Oddly, after 25 or so years of offering a remarkable array of online tools for customers to shop for their new vehicle, we have yet to perfect the experience. At some point in each path to purchase there seems to be an impediment to ultimate success. What’s the ultimate? I like this vision: a Dealer walks into the dealership and the sales manager greets the Dealer and says we sold five overnight! All solid deals and they are scheduled for delivery today and tomorrow. Combine that with the open hour sales and we had an excellent 24 hours.

Perhaps a dream state would also allow us to update the role of our sales team members to be completely focused on the customer experience and to ensure an easy purchase process. If the website becomes a true member of the sales team then we can evolve the dealership to a more efficient and profitable venture. As it is, many dealerships are struggling to make a profit from new vehicle sales and part of the reason are the variable costs associated with the sale.

If you look at the COVID-19 pandemic impact in most markets worldwide where consumers were literally sheltering in place to prevent contracting the virus, we got perhaps a glance at the possibility of the future of automotive sales. At the beginning when the shelter in place guidance was given, consumers went online to learn about the virus, to secure toilet paper and other vital goods to wait out the virus. After a week or two, when things settled down a bit consumers started to shop and shop they did. We saw big spikes in shopping volume and interest for vehicles. However, with many showrooms closed to customers, the only path was to purchase online to the extent that it was possible.

So the question quickly became “are we setup for customers to self-serve and buy a vehicle online?” The answer was generally yes, if they could navigate and cobble together the information they needed to feel confident in making the purchase. Most website have the basics – inventory (pics, videos, descriptions), pricing, incentives, trade-in estimators, payment calculators, etc. Even though most are not linear, experienced online buyers could build their deal and end up making the commitment to buy. However, this clumsy approach is not aligned for self-selling in volume. Enter Digital Retailing.

Digital Retailing, much like movie superheroes, was supposed to save dealerships working through a challenge like they had never faced before and allow consumers to do the heavy lifting online and make the commitment to purchase. Did they work as planned? Not so much! The market leading tools improved the aforementioned clumsy processes but they still required a lot of back and forth communications with the dealership to complete a purchase.

Additionally, we saw a lot of excellent inventory display tools leverage to make “the car the star!” with 360-degree views and the ability to point out flaws and details to enhance the credibility of the dealership. Customers love these tools and they really do help bring the vehicle to life but I think there is more they can do. I think the next level will include virtual test drives where the customer can feel a part of the vehicle and really give them a try while still on their couch at home.

Additional opportunities for improvement are in the paperwork part of the transaction as we overwhelmingly had to have some form of a “wet signature” on physical forms to satisfy banks and governments. This must be solved to make this process end to end.

The truth is we have made great progress and it’s much improved over just a few years ago but we have so much more ground to cover before we can claim success in selling a vehicle completely online. This crisis has given the industry a lot of real-life data to review and if we use it to craft better solutions, I believe we will see this digital retailing code cracked opening up new opportunities to grow and prosper.

If you wish to share your own experiences with Digital Retailing, contact;

This article was written by David Kain, President, Kain Automotive Inc. Digital Sales Training & Consulting, California, USA

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