How auto dealers are adapting to changes in new car buying behavior

In the last few years, new and used car dealerships across the U.S. recognized the need for digital transformation, and as a result, customer satisfaction and dealership productivity soared. But with inflation skyrocketing and tight vehicle inventory persisting, how are dealerships reacting to a market now driven by the three E’s: economy, electrification, and eCommerce?

Today on Inside Automotive, we hear firsthand from those on the front lines of retail automotive, including Ruben Santiago, General Manager of Nalley Lexus of Roswell, Brandon Apon, General Manager of Mall of Georgia Mazda, and Lori Wittman, President of Retail Solutions for Cox Automotive.

Inflation has significantly impacted the rising interest rates across all industries. Ultimately, this creates a unique situation for dealerships as consumers may be paying higher costs for their purchases, but they are also being offered more for their trade-ins. As a result, the business has maintained itself.

With the onset of COVID in 2020, it’s no secret that eCommerce has become a lifeline for dealerships. As noted by Brandon Apon, “If we don’t sell it online, it won’t get sold at all.” Adapting to this change has allowed Apon’s business and many others to grow despite the sudden shift from traditional sales and marketing practices to digital ones.

While buying a car online may not be for everyone, Lori Wittman noted that “70% of consumers want to do some part of the car buying process online…”. This is influential as it provides evidence that eCommerce efforts are not lost on today’s consumers. Most importantly, it offers more options and channels for consumers to complete their purchases.

Santiago mentions that the process for calculating payoff amounts and the value of trade-in vehicles should be standardized. The current systems delay the process, at times, for 2-3 days. Along with updated systems, the difference in client profiles should also be considered. As Brandon Apon noted, not everyone will be the perfect customer. In other words, someone may have negative equity or credit challenges—this is a common occurrence. Taking that into account, eCommerce technology should be able to accommodate the car buying process for them.

Dealerships are also faced with a wave of electrification. In a survey of 1,000 consumers who recently purchased a vehicle, 48% purchased an EV and 51% purchased an ICE vehicle. This is bringing about a whole new set of challenges. Brandon Apon said that, unlike hybrids, the dealership must adapt to an entire new infrastructure that includes charging stations and service equipment for EVs. Ruben also noted that this is a “sizable investment for dealerships to make.”

Overall, the digital transformation for dealerships has been a positive one. So, what’s next? There are mixed opinions between Wittman, Santiago, and Apon about this foresight. The three are divided on what challenges lie ahead, from direct to consumer sales, revising sales training, and updating management to reflect new technologies and their roles in dealerships.

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