Digital Retailing: Don’t Forget About the Dealership!

Just about every technology company in the automotive space is working hard to produce pieces of the digital retailing puzzle to facilitate a better customer experience. But many are focused solely on crafting a solution that allows the customer to complete the car-buying transaction online -- from start to finish.

 

Dealerships should certainly offer such an experience. However, only a small percentage of customers are ready for this. In fact, while 83% say they want to START their car-buying journey online, 89% say they want to FINISH it at the dealership, according to Cox’s Future of Digital Retail Study. The problem is that most of the industry is concentrated on that 11% who are ready to complete the entire process online, rather than the 89% who are not yet prepared for a fully online transaction.

 

The two most significant objections I hear from dealers about digital retailing are first, the loss of control and second, that they don't believe customers are going to purchase a vehicle that way. The reality is that digital retailing must be designed to allow the customer to complete as much or as little of the transaction online as they desire. When they decide they want to finish the remainder of the deal at the dealership, the customer should be able to pick up where they left off. In this way, sales transactions become more efficient, and customer experience improves. The in-store experience is still an essential part of the process and must match the customer’s online experience. Both must be integrated.

 

When the customer completes one or more steps online then arrives at the dealership only to find that they have to start at the beginning, from their viewpoint, everything they've done prior was a waste of time. They will go into the whole sales transaction annoyed, which sets up barriers to the sales cycle.

 

If you have a trade-in widget on your site which provides the customer with a trade-in value, be sure to have a record of that when the customer shows up at the dealership. The same applies to any digital retailing widget. If you really boil down the purpose of all widgets, they are designed to allow the customer to gain information from you.

 

What really matters here is that too many customers start the process online and then walk into the store to a miserable experience. The disconnect which happens all too often is as follows: the customer gets the information from the dealer’s website, shows up at the dealership and is presented with entirely different information. Or the dealership has no record at all of the information previously given to the customer. But it was via the dealership’s own website! How do you think that customer feels? I bet that they are not happy.

 

The failure in the digital retail experience is when a person fills out the form for a test drive, arrives at the dealership and no one knows who they are or why they are there. In an ideal world, upon arrival, their vehicle would be sitting out front, washed and ready and a greeter would welcome them by name.

 

The in-store and online experience are equally important. Not only that, but the two should be seamless for the customer, otherwise, why bother? The customer will be upset, the sale will contain more conflict, and everyone will have to work harder to complete it… if it gets completed at all.

 

As the majority of consumers still complete their car buying in store, the focus shouldn’t just be on getting customers to complete the entire transaction online, but rather on providing tools that allow a customer to complete as much of the purchase online as they desire, then seamlessly morphing that transaction into the store when the customer arrives.

 

It’s time to take an inside out view of digital retailing -- you can't just expect a widget to do it all. It starts in store with a different mindset and a commitment to removing friction from the buying process for all customers, online and in-store.

 

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