The Auto Industry’s Shift To Online & Virtual Tools

Image of Skip Soucie
Skip Soucie

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit dealership operations, auto dealers are adjusting to the new normal. Many dealerships are still unable to fully reopen per local government guidelines. Alternatively, those that have been able to open their doors have discovered that rising online buying trends (even before the downturn) and reluctance to visit physical stores has resulted in buyer preference towards purchasing online.

There is tremendous opportunity here, so lean in.

The Stats Are In Your Favor

According to Google Internet Data, 92% of car buyers research online before they buy. Sixty-four percent of shoppers who watched an online video said that formats like 360-degree videos would convince them to buy a car without a test drive. Imagine that!

With car buying preferences shifting to the digital space and with media consumption being at an all-time high, dealers can come back from an economic downturn. It will require implementing the right platforms and significantly more content marketing, which some dealerships have already begun to embrace.

Game Changers

Auto dealers like Lafontaine Buick GMC in Highland, Michigan have already begun to adapt and refine their processes to meet customer expectations. In a recent USA Today article, Lafontaine was quoted as saying, “People are changing their buying habits. Online platforms are as important as brick and mortar.”

At the core of their approach is a strategy that, at the very least, helps the buyer start the research process online. For example, Lafontaine is in the process of launching Motor Minutes, a new video series of theirs specifically designed to explain vehicle features. Adding to the mix, the dealership’s YouTube channel features 360-degree walk-around videos and more new feature overviews.

Check out the example below.

Customer Satisfaction Is (Still) Key

As we look at how the auto industry as a whole is dealing with the impact of COVID-19, as well as changing buying trends, the emerging theme is to make the customer buying decision easier through online and virtual experiences.

By creating ways to serve customers on their terms, you’ve taken the inconvenience of car shopping out of the equation, which means you’ve made a good impression on them and therefore likely increased the chance of a sale or repeat service business.

For example, the car-buying research site, Autotrader just launched Dealer Home Services. The platform features a set of tools for “no contact interactions” where customers can schedule test drives, pickup, and delivery. The new platform is more than a notion and one that dealerships can certainly take a cue from.

What’s Your Next Play?

Providing online digital touch-points via Social Media, YouTube, and even Zoom are going to be powerful tools to not only sell and service cars but to maintain a high level of customer satisfaction.

From everything including vehicle demos, to valet-style pickup and delivery test drives, to oil changes, it’s clear that the auto industry is now fully embracing digital retailing tools.

If your dealership is not quite there or simply doesn’t have as strong of a digital presence, the best first step would be to start thinking about a content marketing strategy combined with highly targeted social media advertising. You could say it’s the lowest hanging fruit in the digital world - it’s cost-effective and the return on investment is generally very high, especially now with so many people at home and online.

Here's an example of content advertising that is both highly relevant and helpful right now. If you haven't already, consider building a content strategy around any new online services or tools available to help shoppers through the buying process. 


Final Thoughts

Let us be your soundboard. With all of the tasks and operational challenges of staying open with limited customer contact or re-opening for many dealerships, working through how to leverage marketing platforms and build a content strategy is likely more than you want on your to-do list right now. As trusted advisors to over 50 dealerships, EDIFICE Automotive Marketing is here to help you every step of the way.

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