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Meeting the Needs of Today’s Automotive Shoppers

Everyone in the automotive industry knows times are changing. We’ve moved quickly from the early days of dealership hopping and all-day shopping to today, a time when shoppers are more likely to find your dealership via an online search or a referral from a friend. If you’re still standing by, hoping for shoppers to accidentally cross your path in their city-wide trek, you’re fighting a losing battle. Today’s shoppers are busy, they’re online-savvy, and they’re tuned in to exactly what they’re looking for. Nothing will happen by accident, which means your online presence must be purposeful and intentional in order to give you the best chance for success.

Luckily, there is a universal truth that remains when it comes to car-buying. It is a BIG deal—likely the second-largest purchase most people make—and not even technology can change that. What does this mean for you, the dealership professional? It means you still have plenty of opportunities to shine in consumers’ eyes. While the pivotal moments in the car-buying journey may have shifted to meet technological advancements and marketplace demands, the moments are still there for the taking. And that’s where you come in.

Customer Experience Management is even more important than ever, and with an online-focused and mobile-driven society, your current system likely merits some analysis. Is your dealership doing everything it can to reach consumers during the pivotal moments that lead up to a vehicle purchase? Are your sales and service professionals interacting online and creating meaningful relationships during critical consumer research periods? Shoppers today are savvy information seekers, and they arrive at your dealership well-informed and ready to move quickly. They have essentially changed the way shopping and selling is done, and this means successful dealerships are also changing the way they do things in order to meet consumer needs.

What You Can Do

Shoppers are on the lookout for dealerships that offer very specific things, and if you are able to provide those, you’ll stand out from the crowd. While today’s average car-buyer makes only two visits to brick and mortar dealerships before making a purchase, you can bet there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes before they set foot onto a showroom floor. The job of today’s modern dealership is to meet consumers where they are shopping and doing a majority of their research in order to make a lasting impression that will eventually entice them into your dealership. In short, if they’re not going to come to you in the beginning stages of their research, you’ll need to go to them. Thanks to the boom in digital and mobile technology, we know shoppers are hitting their online resources hard when it comes to finding vehicle information, and that means you’ll need to be in that space as well, providing quality content they find valuable to their search.

If you need a little convincing, the latest stats recently released by Google should do the trick:

  • 69% of those who used YouTube while buying a car were influenced by it, even more so than other media sources like TV, newspapers, or magazines.
  • In the first 9 months of 2015, YouTube auto review videos were watched over 3M hours.
  • Time spent watching auto videos like test drives, highlights and feature options, and vehicle walkthroughs is up almost 2X in just the past year.
  • Online photo searches for vehicles are up 37% year-over-year, with 80% of searches taking place via mobile devices.
  • Online pricing searches are also up, at their highest levels ever. Growth is up 25% in the last year, with mobile also ranking high, accounting for 70% of searches.
  • 1 in 3 shoppers who use mobile devices to aid in their vehicle searches also use mobile to locate or call a dealership.
  • Savvy shoppers don’t hesitate to confirm they’re getting a good deal, with 46% participating in mobile searches directly from the lot.

The latest stats show consumers are not only armed with more information than ever before, but they are also confident and will seek out dealerships that can offer the best overall experiences. This is your chance to provide a great deal and also an outstanding customer experience that begins with the initial consumer contact.

Defining Consumer Moments

There are several things you can do to catch the attention of modern consumers and ensure you stay front-of-mind throughout their buying journeys. When you start by defining the moments that shape today’s consumer buying experience, you’ll be better prepared to meet shoppers where they are and provide them with the material they need to make buying decisions. Consumers are empowered; and they are looking for businesses seeking to further their empowerment by adding to their knowledge and capabilities. For dealerships, this means being prepared for shoppers that expect quick responses and more-knowledgeable-than-ever professionals. In addition to that, however, plan on spending time during the up-front process and being present throughout online shopper research and comparisons:

  • Offer quality content throughout the evaluation process. Consumers will turn to trusted online sites to research and compare vehicles they are interested in, and by providing up-to-date, reliable information that links directly back to your dealership’s site, you’ll gain credibility with shoppers. The research stage is a critical moment in the buying process—both for consumers and for dealerships—and this is a great opportunity for you to proactively reach out and offer information about your brand, your sales team, and even clarify potentially confusing financing questions consumers may have when beginning the shopping process. By positioning your dealership as a thought leader early in the buying process, you’ll have a better shot at gaining and keeping shoppers’ attention.
  • Maintain a continued presence throughout the purchasing experience. No matter their budget, most consumers still consider a vehicle to be a large, impactful purchase—and this means your continued support and presence will be noticed and appreciated throughout the process. Car-buying can be confusing, and no consumer wants to feel left alone during a difficult purchasing process. The more you can assure them of your presence and support throughout the process, and the easier you are able to make things, the better you’ll look in consumers’ eyes. Consider ways to shorten wait times for already-hurried shoppers and think about ways to make the time spent in your dealership comfortable and pleasant.
  • Stay front-of-mind, even after the purchase. After the long process of purchasing a vehicle, consumers may want to leave and not look back for a while, and it falls to you to remind them of your presence and why they chose your dealership in the first place. Once the dust has settled and the paperwork is complete, check in with customers, remind them of upcoming service opportunities for their new vehicles, and let them know about car-care clinics or other dealership events. If you offer amenities that outshine the rest, be sure to capitalize on that by extending the customer experience and inviting them back to the dealership.

By mastering the moments that matter to consumers, you’ll gain positive shopper attention. The pivotal moments for today’s consumers have shifted—with a spotlight on upfront research and information gathering—but by aligning with shoppers and providing useful, reliable information that helps guide them along their purchasing journeys, you’ll secure a solid position for your dealership in the marketplace. It’s up to forward-thinking dealerships to shift their focus and build relationships with consumers who are doing a large portion of their research via online platforms. By meeting consumers where they’re already spending a majority of their time, you’ll build lasting brand recognition and trust.

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