If you’ve skimmed a DealerSocket ad in your last 10 or so editions of Automotive News, then you have caught our newest headline, “In Dealership We Trust.” I thought you should hear straight from the horse’s mouth (on behalf of her talented copywriter) that this is not just some clever advertising line to get your attention. Well, it is actually and I hope it works, but really it comes from a place of sincerity that we believe whole-heartedly. Allow me to explain.
The More Things Change, the More They Remain the Same
Insert the beaten dead horse here: Yes, we know — consumer buying habits have changed dramatically over the last few years, which has changed the way they buy cars. But, has it really? The way they shop for cars is what actually changed. There is a distinct difference between buying and shopping. Consumers begin the process online, accessing all the information they seek in their own timeframe without ever having to interact with another person. However, when the time comes to make the purchase, the majority of buyers still prefer to go to a dealership to see, smell, test drive, and talk numbers. Sixty-seven percent of consumers still want to have an in-store buying experience, while 71 percent of consumers prefer to negotiate in the store. Car dealership alternatives such as Carvana and Beepi have tried to disrupt the industry with very little success. Consumer ratings for Carvana average 2.5 out of five stars at best, while Beepi has shut down. What does this mean for you, Mr. and Mrs. Dealer? The consumer has spoken, and he or she wants to include you in the vehicle purchase!
Brick and Mortar is Making a Comeback, Baby! (But Please, Mind the Web)
One of the most ironic fads out there is when successful online retailers build brick-and-mortar stores or pop-up shops so that their online customers can “experience” the brand in real life. Amazon, for example, just opened its first store in New York. Meanwhile, retail giants of the past, such as Macy’s and Gap, are shutting down stores to keep pace with the online shopping craze.
Hello? This isn’t rocket science. Yes, many of these pop-up shops are keen with millennials and neighborhood hipsters, but dealerships are the OGs* of pop-up shops. You are your own neighborhood business and cater to the community. Own it and be proud to have the four walls that surround your showroom. If you make your store attractive, people will come!
So how do you get car buyers to want to come to your dealership? This is where the web comes in. As previously mentioned, car shoppers start their research online. And just like those super-hip pop-up shops, you have both channels dialed: website and showroom. The two mirror each other in look, what they sell, and the overall experience. Your dealership website should be no different. Attract car shoppers and buyers to your website. Hook them with PPC ads or killer content they can’t get enough of. Your website and your dealership should be seamless extensions of one another. All facets of your website should be similar to your online service scheduler, for instance. Allow your customers to easily schedule an online appointment, and when they arrive at the service drive, you should be expecting them and know everything about them: who they are, their needs, and their vehicle. Providing easy-to-access modules on your inventory or parts web pages really shouldn’t be that different if you think about it. Let your customers decide how they want to interact with you. Whether it’s via the web or in-person, give them control of when they make that first step to interact. If you do it right, they will come to you; you don’t always have to make the first move.
That Trust Thing
You have a good-looking website and showroom so you’re all set, right? Wrong! The single most important thing that a dealership must do is earn its customer’s trust. The No. 1 reason consumers do not like the car buying process is they don’t trust salespeople. Yes, some of it comes from decades of bad reputation and a negative stigma around interacting with car salespeople in general. However, buying a car is a very different experience than purchasing other goods and services. Consumers still have the ability to negotiate their purchase price. Regardless of whatever new fancy technology you put in your store, unless you have the trust thing nailed down, none of it matters.
Think of your most loyal customers. Every dealership has those customers who buy every car from the same salesperson or who only deal with one service advisor every time they bring their car in for maintenance. Unfortunately, those customers are the minority. If you think about why those customers keep coming back, it’s because they trust those individuals. They have built a relationship with your staff and moved passed the process of shopping around for price, convenience, or any other factor. Technology can enable and enhance the relationship experience your staff has with every single customer and prospect. Your people are still your No. 1 asset. Let technology attract customers to your store, but then empower your people to make them come back.
So, I say to you, in dealership we trust! If you believe it, they will come.
*OG = Original Gangster