While the global coronavirus pandemic has shuttered many businesses for the past couple of months, there are also changes being made to the way active companies are actually doing business, too. Many car dealerships and showrooms were ordered to close at the outbreak of the pandemic, but in mid-April, federal guidelines were adjusted and deemed auto sales essential, therefore reopening dealerships across the U.S.
As with every other business that has been closed, dealerships are opening at various paces. Some dealerships are opting to have certain employees stay home, whereas others are switching up staff schedules to limit the number of people in the dealership at once. The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) recently released its “Dealer Guide to Safely Operating Your Dealership During a Pandemic,” which provides guidance to dealerships on how to clean and maintain their facilities while also working to stop the spread of COVID-19 through “safely handling” sales and service operations.
Now that dealerships are back in business, they must find ways to implement new dealership safety strategies to protect staff and customers. At least for the foreseeable future, dealerships will be taking measures to change the shopping experience for their customers while doing what they can to keep everyone safe.
As Matthew DeBord of Business Insider put it, the traditional model of car sales has been “completely upended” and “a brave new world of car sales is taking shape.”
First and foremost, many dealerships have had to begin relying on Internet sales more. Updating availability and prices more often, offering online discounts and deals, providing home delivery to customers at no extra charge, and even paying more for sponsored ads has become the norm for many dealerships within the past few months. Increasing an online presence reduces the need for a visit to the dealership and therefore lessens the need for in-person contact.
Of course, simple steps like providing contactless hand sanitizer stations and wearing masks and gloves are a start for any dealership. Wiping down common surfaces such as door handles and desks even more than before will help slow the spread of COVID-19, too. Employees should be knowledgeable about the sanitation recommendations in their city or state and strictly follow those guidelines.
The showroom, bathrooms, waiting areas, and cubicles are not the only areas dealerships need to sanitize thoroughly – there are also the vehicles. NADA’s guidelines recommend disinfecting all commonly touched surfaces with EPA-approved disinfectants, as most of these can clean a vehicle’s surfaces without damaging them. It is always a good idea to take a look at the disinfectants’ instructions, as many vary in how long users need to let them sit on surfaces.
Some dealerships have moved to appointment-only availability, which will lessen the amount of foot traffic in a showroom at one time. Others are staying open more hours and rearranging employees’ shift times to spread out appointments more. In many situations, the service lane is connecting with customers regarding their vehicles via phone or email instead of an in-person consultation. In the 2020 spirit of social distancing, many dealerships have already spaced out seating more throughout waiting areas.
Even though the pandemic will end at some point, cleanliness will likely be more in the forefront of peoples’ minds from now on. Being cautious of touching things and staying farther away from people might become a habit to many, and most of the new safety measures being taken will likely continue to some degree even after the entire economy is reopened.
Overall, returning to work will not be the same, at least for now. Dealerships currently have the responsibility of limiting the spread of COVID-19 as much as possible while keeping staff and customers safe. As time goes on and the virus becomes less of a threat, dealerships may start to ease the measures outlined above; however, maintaining at least the basic sanitary recommendations while strategizing to find reasonable social distancing measures can protect everyone involved in the car buying process as well as the service lane.
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Car Biz Today, the official resource of the retail automotive industry.