“Younger buyers still want the dealership,” read the headline for Automotive News' Aug. 12 report on a new study from Urban Science. The firm surveyed approximately 2,000 shoppers in February, 75% of whom said they would not buy a vehicle without a dealer involved.
Inspiring the headline were findings indicating that the youngest generations shop the highest number of brick-and-mortar dealerships, with Gen Z and young millennials visiting, on average, 3.8 and 2.6 stores before pulling the trigger. These are the generations all those industry studies said didn't like the dealership experience, hated the F&I office, and might even stop buying cars.
Well, those studies appear to be wrong. In fact, according to a column penned by J.D. Power researcher Maya Ivanova for Auto Remarketing magazine, “Fears that Gen Y... would turn their backs on the all-American car-buying tradition are unfounded.”
The research also noted that Gen Y shoppers “mostly like to close the deal at the dealership.”
I know of a few “traditionalists” who are grinning ear to ear over these findings, believing they refute all that talk about dealers needing to step into the Digital Age. I believe the opposite. My takeaway is the stats serve as an endorsement of the industry's efforts to get dealers to embrace the internet, and I believe they point to the digital experience growing in importance in the years ahead — that's if we can erase the mistakes of tech marketers in recent years.
So what brings me to those conclusions? For starters, the line about Gen Y being OK with closing deals at the dealership opens with the following: “While every millennial starts the buying journey digitally...”
The Automotive News article also notes that 81% of the auto shoppers polled indicated that they “trust the information they receive from a franchised dealership.” Think about that for a second: 81% of your customers say they trust the information you send them. Wait, it gets better.
Seventy-two percent of survey respondents said the salesperson is becoming a trusted advisor. Wow, right? Well, 75% of survey respondents also said they would not want to buy a vehicle without a dealer involved.
So what happened to all that talk about consumers wanting to avoid the dealership experience? Well, thanks to your digital marketing and advertising efforts, car buyers know if stores are “retailing the same vehicle for $10,000 to $10,500, then that is the price of that vehicle.” That's what Reedman-Toll Auto Group's Moshe Schoopachevich said in a new report we developed in partnership with Automotive News.
“They look at Kelly Blue Book and Edmunds, too,” he noted, adding, “What the internet really did was end haggling.”
Back in 2015, Google broke down the car-buying process in the Internet Age into five moments:
Now consider all the digital techniques your store employs daily and monthly to help consumers through those moments. Yeah, those studies might point to consumers not minding the dealership experience, but it's because of everything you do online to reel them in.
As for whether those findings make an argument against digital retailing, I don't think they do. I believe consumers are just now learning what's possible from a car-shopping perspective. And I believe their expectation will only grow in the years to come, but not at the expense of the dealership experience.
See, I think the term “digital retailing” has gotten a bad name in our industry, mainly because of the missteps of tech marketers. They believed the best way to market their solutions was to bash the people they're designed to help, and they used the buying habits of today's younger generations to do so.
Hey, calling dealers antiquated because they're process-driven is no way to get them to buy into your vision of the future. Dealers are process-driven because they know a proven process delivers results, because the state and federal laws governing their activities demand it, and because not every customer has an 800 credit score.
The good news is I think marketers are finally coming around. It's why we see terms like “connected retail” and “omnichannel retailing” being used to describe “digital retailing.”
As I've always been told, buying a car is the second biggest purchase a consumer will make, and it should be treated as such. However, digitizing low-value steps in your sales process, such as filling out a credit app, should be something you embrace. It makes the process more efficient, saves labor, and allows your team to focus on high-value activities like selling cars, F&I products, and the expertise of your service department. That's the true promise of digital retailing.