My husband and I have purchased so many cars recently that we should probably start a club for people who love to car shop. (Facebook group, anyone?) In this blog, I will summarize our past shopping experiences and explain the four internet marketing and sales techniques that got us to buy.
In the last two years, we have traded in and purchased four different cars. Throughout all the vehicle juggling, we’ve done our fair share of online research, pricing, test driving, dealership visiting, and negotiating. From a large conglomerate “no haggle” dealership, to the small store with fully commissioned sales staff who will aggressively sell you any vehicle on the lot, we have seen it all. As someone who works closely with the automotive industry, I can imagine these four lessons might prove helpful in YOUR dealership.
1. “No haggle” and “ease of access” reign supreme
Our first and second car trades were almost identical because we used the same dealership and salesperson. We wanted to trade in our gas-guzzling “college cars” for svelte hybrid or electric vehicles.
Each purchase was as smooth, stress-free, and “no haggle” as the dealership’s advertising touted. We found our cars online, test drove the exact cars we would take home, sat down to do the paperwork, and left with smiles on our faces. The paperwork period was a tad lengthy but was tolerable overall.
While my husband enjoys haggling and negotiating (i.e. the “typical car buying process”), I prefer this easy, stress-free approach. And I’m not alone, only 17 out of 4,002 customers surveyed prefer the typical method of buying a car. That’s only 0.5%!
Given that most shoppers seem to be like me, you should evaluate how your dealership handles customers’ online experiences. Consider letting customers shop, negotiate, and sign their paperwork online, and use the online experience to lessen the pressures of the process and keep it low-key. Give your customers the power to choose, pay for, and drive away their new car on THEIR terms. To further ease the buying process, some dealerships have employed tech-savvy tactics such as a virtual document signature capture desk or test driving cars from a massive vending machine! While I don’t think it’s essential to go THAT far, a few simple digital changes could drive more business to your dealership.
Learn from our encounters ...
Six months after we purchased the hybrid and electric cars, we decided the full-electric wasn’t the right vehicle for us (range anxiety, anyone?). Instead, we wanted a cheap car that we could run into the ground, a true workhorse. Like before, we used our trusty smartphones and began looking online in our area for a used vehicle that was inexpensive but would last for many years to come. After trolling many car lots trying to find the cars we had bookmarked online (or looking for cars that weren’t online), we found an SUV and a sedan at a small dealership in a “dodgy” part of town. Once we rolled onto the lot, a salesperson appeared at our window—in the rain—asking if we needed help. My husband and I looked at each other, and we braced ourselves as we got out of the car.
Not only was this buying process longer than the first two, but the dealership strung us along for DAYS before we finally crawled out with an SUV at a decent price. While this was not ideal, there are a few things the dealership got right: They had a significant and well-advertised online presence, and all vehicles were merchandised online with their best prices prominently displayed.
2. Being online matters
My husband and I use online resources in every one of our car buying endeavors and have become car-searching powerhouses. Unsurprisingly, we’re not alone in this. On average, customers spend 14.75 hours shopping online for just one car (so for four cars, we shopped a total of 59 online hours?!), and 59% of an average customer’s car-buying research is done online as opposed to in-store, word of mouth, or in print. Shoppers tend to use smartphones when searching but also utilize desktops, laptops, and tablets, depending on where they are (home, work, out driving around). In fact, 46% of average customers use multiple devices to search online during their car buying process.
What does this mean for your dealership? Own a strong online presence. Post your best prices online to entice customers to come in and not be disappointed when they do. Utilize SEO (search engine optimization) to improve a buyer’s chance of finding YOUR dealership over another. Show your inventory online, on your site AND third-party sites. Ensure your dealership address and hours of operation are prominently displayed on your homepage, and in a Google search. Your customers are shopping online: Help them find what you want them to find.
Enter the shiny blue truck …
A year after the SUV buying experience, we (my husband) decided we needed (he wanted) a truck. So, we went truck shopping! (Note my sarcasm …) I’m pretty sure we visited every dealership in a 50-mile radius of our home over the course of three weeks.
Like before, we started by using digital devices to find the perfect truck. During our search we scoured the web, our budget rose and fell, and we test drove every truck we could. Finally, we agreed that our favorite truck model was WAY outside of our budget, so we found another option that was just the truck for us.
Our research into this chosen truck model eventually landed us at a dealership in a neighboring suburb. We arrived at the lot, saw the truck, (which had only been there for two days and was balloon-clad on the rotating pedestal out front, with a radiant light surrounding its shiny, blue physique) and asked for a test drive.
3. Test drives are not the end all, be all
When my husband and I bought our hybrid/electric vehicles, we only test drove the cars we would purchase. This is typical, 52% of average customers only test drive one vehicle when they’re car shopping. From my research, I confirmed that “car shoppers are influenced about what to buy and who to buy from. The time to influence and convert them is online, where car buyers spend the majority of their shopping time making decisions.” This couldn’t have been truer during our truck shopping experience. We test drove many vehicles during our SUV and truck searches, but ultimately we made up our minds based on the deals and information we found online. We didn’t care who we talked to at the dealership; we just wanted to get the deal done.
My takeaway? If your sales team currently throws all its effort into making the sale during the test drive or after, perhaps utilize that selling talent on your company’s Facebook page or website instead.
4. In-store does not mean offline
Even after my husband and I made it onto a lot in any of the above scenarios, we were still on our smartphones searching for the next best deal. When looking for the SUV and the truck, we drove through many lots, many dealerships, scouting for that one car, that diamond in the rough. We armed ourselves with statistics and features, the prices and current sales, anything we could before we spoke to a salesperson. 63% of shoppers report using their mobile device at the dealership.
To keep those customers on your lot and urge them to engage with your sales team, you need complete online transparency. What do you want shoppers to buy? The balloons and rotating pedestals are a nice touch, but invest in online advertising, social media sponsored posts, website banner ads, and third-party website top spots; THAT is where customers are looking, not in the skies above your dealership.
For more tips on internet management, check out the NCM Institute’s two courses Mastering Digital Marketing and Internet/BDC Operations Management.