COVID-19 was a learning experience for virtually every industry. New Car Dealers were no exception, having implemented new technologies, processes and procedures throughout the customer journey which are likely to remain well after the pandemic ends.
The digitalization of new car sales is one such development, with online-only sales continuing to grow after increasing from 2.4% in 2019 to 7.6% in 2020, according to a recent DesRosiers Automative Consultants survey. The dealers surveyed also overwhelmingly expected a significant increase in the number of online-only sales moving forward, anticipating an average of 17.8% by 2025.
Online initial contact rose considerably as well, increasing from 29.7% of cases in 2019 to 38.9% in 2020. In line with the surge of online customers, nearly 20% of dealers had upgraded their website and digital systems in 2020, with almost 60% of those that did not upgrade stating that they would in 2021.
A more robust online presence is another area that will retain its relevance well past the pandemic. Many new car dealerships have completely revamped their inventory listings online, adding in engaging, high-quality imagery, and at times even virtual tours of the vehicles. These innovations clearly provide immense value and convenience to customers right at their home, making it incredibly likely that this online-first approach is here to stay.
Across the industry there is an awareness that the online customer experience will continue to gain prominence, which is why more car dealers are investing in this space. An interesting benefit of this for dealerships is the wealth of customer data that they now have access to and can leverage to serve consumers in a tailored manner.
Since health and safety was a top priority during COVID-19, new car dealerships around the country implemented contactless services, with at-home test drives and home delivery for vehicles quickly gaining ground. One in five recent car buyers used home delivery for their vehicles, according to Cars.com, and the added convenience of these contact-free processes will contribute to their continued relevance.
Appointment-only policies naturally saw a similarly large spike in popularity. And while initially a matter of simply limiting the number of customers at a dealership at any given time, their utility for salespeople and consumers alike can’t be understated. This policy works well because of the increased use of online services offered by dealerships, meaning customers come prepared. For salespeople, appointments allow them a far greater degree of flexibility and control over their workflow.
It’s clear that the pandemic has changed how new car dealerships do business, and for the better. With a renewed and reenergized approach to attracting consumers, dealerships have taken an important step towards providing superior service, and there’s no going back from that.
Blair Qualey is President and CEO of the New Car Dealers Association of BC. You can email him at [email protected]