The pandemic has shaped how customers are communicating with car dealerships. That’s not just in methodology, like preferring text messages to emails or phone calls, but in the words they speak in conversation. Gubagoo is a leading provider of digital retailing, conversational commerce, chat, and messaging solutions for auto dealers which has analyzed nearly 20 million chat conversations between consumers and dealers to demonstrate the differences.

Their analysis compares trends in phrases between 2019 and 2020 to come up with the terms that have both never been seen before as well as those with exponential growth year over year.

New phrases in 2020

Unsurprisingly, the “COVID-19,” “coronavirus,” “pandemic,” terms about wearing masks, and “stay at home order” were all phrases that surfaced with strong frequency, that were completely new in 2020.

Alongside these pandemic-related terms was a new set of closing farewells: “stay safe,” “stay healthy,” and “stay well” were all-new ways for consumers and dealers alike to conclude their conversations, while phrases like “have a wonderful day,” or “have a wonderful night” were almost completely eliminated from the general lexicon.

Trending phrases in 2020

Gubagoo noted a number of phrases that trended upward significantly in 2020 vs. 2019.

  • At-home test drives and deliveries: Inquiries about test drives at home increased 11.6 times over 2019, and at-home delivery increased 12.5 times, as consumers increasingly sought alternative ways to interact with the dealership. While at-home services peaked during the first wave of the pandemic, interest in this service continued to be strong through the remainder of the year and is expected to remain strong through 2021.
  • Online Purchase: Inquiries about purchasing a vehicle online increased substantially in 2020, by 136%. Interest in buying online increased through the year, even as dealerships re-opened.

Consumers trended towards eCommerce across all industries in 2020, and this certainly has translated in automotive, as dealerships have increasingly adopted tools such as Gubagoo’s Virtual Retailing.

  • Used Vehicle Inquiries: Customer inquiries about used vehicles spiked 14 times on the platform year-over-year, driven by new car inventory issues and economic factors.
  • Open for business, and hours: With a rapidly changing environment, inquiries about hours of operation and whether the dealership was open or closed increased 12 times.
  • Showroom Appointments: Dealerships have always wanted customers to make appointments, as they can be better prepared for the visit and deliver a more efficient experience. In 2020, customers substantially increased their own requests for appointments, by 11 times.
  • Financing Terms: As manufacturers paraded out zero-percent financing offers, inquiries about these exceptional offers spiked “0% financing” as a phrase by a whopping 28 times. Often paired with 84-month terms, the lengthy financing period also spiked 13 times. “Deferred payments” and “x- months with no payment” both increased tenfold. Puzzlingly, requests for “help with financing” decreased by a notable 77%.

Declining phrases in 2020

  • Gift Cards: Dealerships were offering fewer promotional incentives for test drives, appointments, etc., as mentions of gift cards dropped by 78%.
  • Recalls: There was a 42% decrease in conversational mentions of recalls in 2020.
  • Black Friday: There was a notable decrease in mentions of Black Friday in conversations, suggesting that there was less focus on Black Friday in the sector. Mentions dropped by 77% year-over-year.
  • Happy Thanksgiving: It’s a little sad – but it is notable that consumers and dealerships wished each other a Happy Thanksgiving 94% less often in 2020, opting instead for the stay safe and stay healthy messages instead.

What dealers can take away

Some of the terminology offers nothing more than an interesting glimpse into the new way of doing life, but others can be used for dealers to glean insight into the customer journey and potential opportunities.

For example, a massive increase in online used vehicle inquiries should spur dealers into action to shore up weak used car VLPs. Browsing dealership websites, you’ll find notoriously incomplete descriptions that use generic text – certainly not the type of content that commands engagement from the customer.

Since millions of vehicle recalls are still awaiting completion, the decline in recalls mentioned throughout the year could be cause for concern. A concerted push to achieve higher completion rates would effectively add a point of engagement with the customer as well as improve vehicle safety.

Did you enjoy this article from Jason Unrau? Read other articles from him here.

Be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date or catch-up on all of our podcasts on demand.

While you’re here, don’t forget to subscribe to our email newsletter for all the latest auto industry news from CBT News.