Remember the golden days of car buying? There wasn’t an internet where people could do research—only magazines. When new cars arrived, dealers often used opaque waterproof marker paint over the windows for the big yearly reveal.
Walking into a dealership, the smell of new cars, a firm handshake with a salesperson who knew your name, and a test drive that sealed the deal. It was personal, tangible, and authentic.
Fast forward to the last decade, where online platforms have revolutionized the car buying experience, particularly for electric vehicles (EVs). Though the landscape has shifted, one thing remains constant: the need for a personalized, seamless journey from the first online click to the final in-person signature.
Dealerships now face the challenge of blending the old with the new, creating a harmonious Online-to-Offline (O2O) buying experience that captures the essence of traditional customer connection within the digital realm. Let’s explore how to make this possible in the age of EVs.
Setting the Standard: Tesla’s Approach
Like it or not, Tesla, under the visionary leadership of Elon Musk, has revolutionized the car buying process. Their approach bypasses the conventional dealership network, allowing customers to customize their vehicles online, get pricing details, and place an order. Tesla’s approach also heavily emphasizes the experience after purchase, with over-the-air updates and direct customer service.
However, not all dealers or OEMs have the luxury or capability to replicate this model due to various restrictions, state-wise and nationally. But Tesla’s paradigm shows us the potential — and gives us a roadmap to what more car buyers are looking for.
The Agency Model: Opportunities and Pitfalls
Recent discussions in the auto industry highlight the push for an “agency model” to sell vehicles. This approach, especially favored for EVs, significantly emphasizes the manufacturer’s role in the selling process. While this can bring about a uniform buying experience and pricing model, it will also alienate dealers, who have traditionally been the face of the car buying experience.
Yet, this push isn’t a death knell for dealerships. On the contrary, it’s an opportunity because dealerships benefit the customer. At your dealership, you can still play a pivotal role in providing hands-on experiences, test drives, and answering intricate questions that online platforms might be unable to handle. Plus, your customer can haggle. You can be the welcoming bridge between the online dream and the offline reality.
Blending the Best of Both Worlds
Here’s how dealerships can adapt to offer the best of both worlds:
Digital Showrooming with Next-Gen Tech: Embrace the next wave of digital immersion with plans to e products like the upcoming Apple Vision Pro. This cutting-edge technology could redefine online showrooming, allowing potential buyers to experience virtual test drives and interactive explorations of vehicles from the comfort of their homes. The potential of such tools to simulate real-world experiences might be the next leap forward in bridging the online-offline divide.
Pre-visit Paperwork: Offer buyers the option to fill out most of the required paperwork online. This not only speeds up the process but also ensures that the time spent at the dealership is focused on the vehicle itself.
Appointment-based Visits: Prioritize the customer’s time. When they come in, ensure they have a personalized, efficient experience. This is especially pertinent for EV test drives which may require more orientation for new than conventional vehicles.
Educational Resources: Dealerships can play a pivotal role in educating customers about EVs. By offering a combination of online videos, tutorials, and offline seminars, dealers can demystify aspects of EV ownership, such as maintenance, charging, and long-term benefits.
Back in the day, Apple started a program that put Apple Specialists in computer stores to educate customers on the benefits of their system. It may be time to have an EV specialist in your dealership.
Feedback Loop: Post-purchase engagement is crucial. And that doesn’t mean random emails promoting sales on vehicles the customer wouldn’t buy. Understand the buyer’s journey, solicit feedback, and use this information to refine and enhance the overall experience.
The Road Ahead
The tactile and emotional aspects of buying a car, encapsulated by the new car smell, the steering wheel’s feel, and the test drive’s excitement, are hard to replicate purely online.
\While Tesla has pioneered a unique model, traditional dealerships hold an integral position in the car-buying landscape. By marrying online innovations with the tangible, hands-on experiences they excel at, dealerships can craft a future-ready, holistic EV buying journey.