As transaction prices on new and used vehicles soar, competition for today’s auto buyers is fierce. But it’s not just local competitors dealers need to contend with. Rapid digitalization due to the pandemic led to the growth of online-only retailers. In the first six months of 2020, Carvana, Shift, and Vroom collectively experienced a 36% increase in sales year-over-year.

Amid another challenging year in the auto industry, this trend has accelerated, coinciding with an uptick in app downloads and record-setting sales as online retailers work to increase acquisitions and expand their inventories.

To combat the convenience of online-only retailers, it’s critical dealers not only offer digital purchasing options but also simplify the entire buying process by meeting customers where they are with an exceptional customer experience.

Build trust with buyers

With competition in the online-only sector capitalizing on mass-produced, self-serve processes, dealers have the opportunity to appeal to buyers with a personalized experience that meets their unique needs and builds trust.

Whether online or in-store, this means offering a tailored experience with a trusted advisor well-versed in your customers’ wants and needs, as well as your available inventory, pricing, and incentives.

For example, by offering customers online options for transactional touchpoints like configuration, price negotiation, and financing, along with relevant interactions to guide their way, dealers can build trust by offering buyers a more complete and transparent view of their purchasing options.

Focus on clear, concise, and transparent messaging

Building trust with buyers means more than offering haggle-free pricing or avoiding bait-and-switch offers. Ensure your sales experience reflects your dealership’s internal culture while also meeting the needs of your audience.

Think of the buying experience from your customer’s perspective to identify opportunities to improve your approach. This starts with effective communication to build trust with buyers and keep them engaged. It’s critical to engage customers in their preferred communications methods – and that your engagement consistently respects those wishes and preferences.

Equally critical is the consistency of your messaging across channels. From showroom signage to online information, ensure your dealership’s message is clear, concise, and consistent, including information on your available inventory, pricing, process, and procedures.   

Create a convenient and connected customer experience

For buyers online (and in-person), convenience is key. In a 2020 study by IHS Markit, 64% of consumers who bought a car online cited convenience as the primary reason. However, as buyers shop online, they’re still looking for people to guide their journey.

A 2020 Roaster study found 89% of online shoppers interacted with dealer staff via live chats during their transaction, and 80% of those who purchased entirely online were still guided in some way during vehicle configuration, credit inquires, or other places.

Whether it’s online or in-store, offering true convenience hinges on a dealer’s ability to meet buyers where they are through a connected customer experience. Start by ensuring your messaging across channels keeps customers informed about the topics that matter to them most, like details related to pre-orders and out-of-stock models.

Look for opportunities to engage customers across channels on their terms, such as online self-serve features like trade-in estimators or credit applications. Additionally, ensure customers have the immediate ability to test drive available models or offer video walkarounds for in-bound or vehicles available for pre-order.

While online-only retailers are undoubtedly on the rise amid rapid digitalization and widespread inventory shortages, as buyers consistently seek out personalized buying experiences, local dealers have a leg up.

By building trust with buyers through clear, concise messaging and providing convenient purchasing options online and in-store, dealers are empowered to form personal connections with customers – something the online-only retailers simply can’t compete with.

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