Building Relationships : The Paradigm Shift

Autosphere » Dealerships » Building Relationships : The Paradigm Shift

Knowledge is power, and today’s car shoppers are more “powerful” than ever.

This couple walks into a dealership …

Sounds like the setup to an old joke, doesn’t it? Well, there are no belly laughs coming in this column. The punchline, if you will, is actually about how the whole paradigm around that moment in the buyer’s decision process has shifted so dramatically, and what smart dealers need to be doing in response.

I know, I know: columns on merchandising are nothing new. But as the adage goes, the stronger the foundation, the higher you can build the house. Best practices, while always changing, are also timeless.

New beginnings

A decade or so ago, that moment of the potential buyer coming through the doors was the beginning of the process. That was when the salesperson would strike up a conversation designed to get a sense of what the customer may or may not be interested in—or if they even had a sense of it at all, at that point. Coupe, sedan, minivan, SUV?

But those days are long gone. Today, when that couple walks into the dealership, they are already so far down the decision path that they’re not only ready to buy, they have already invested somewhere between 15 and 19 hours doing research online and educating themselves.

They now have a clear vision of the make, model, trim package, mileage and features they’re after—and the price they’re willing to pay.

They also likely have a good idea what their trade-in is worth, what the insurance will cost and what monthly payments to expect.

Online research

Previously, a prospective buyer would visit at least five if not more dealerships before making a purchase. Today, the average is 1.2 to 1.5 dealership visits. Because buyers have already spent roughly three months doing online research to educate themselves about the vehicle they’re looking for.

From online marketplaces to chat groups to consumer report rankings, the vast amount of information that is right at their fingertips has shifted the conversation that takes place on the showroom floor from the very general to the laserfocused specific.

By the time they’re on your lot they are already at the bottom of the purchase funnel and ready to transact. And that shift means that the dealership now has far less control over the conversation. Knowledge is power, and the consumer is armed to the teeth.

Today, when that couple walks into the dealership, they are already so far down the decision path that they’re not only ready to buy, they have already invested somewhere between 15 and 19 hours doing research online and educating themselves.

Best-in-class online merchandising

So how do dealers deal with that? The smart ones are making sure that their online game is the best that it can be. The quality of their online presence and the speed at which they get their inventory up online has never been more important.

The stronger your investment in best-in-class online merchandising of your inventory, the higher the likelihood that when that consumer walks through your door, they have come ready to buy.

The same rigour that has always been applied to ensuring physical lots are in pristine condition – with spotless vehicles being strategically merchandised, priced and promoted – must be applied to your online presence in order to drive incremental success.

And that means:

High quality photos—not just a couple, more like 30-40 images per vehicle
HD video, showing every facet inside and out
Compelling use of trim line
Well written descriptions—especially the first few lines that also appear on the SRP (Search Results Page) and are key to driving conversion to the VDP (Vehicle Details Page)
Setting the right price for your local market—if you’re a bit higher, tell the consumer why: if the vehicle has special features, SHOUT IT OUT!
Do you offer financing or trade— in deals?
Is the vehicle CPO? Again, let the customer know—it builds confidence and trust
Display your Dealer verified ratings on SRP and VDP. This transparency also builds trust, equipping consumers with deeper knowledge of the dealership and how you operate.

It’s a different world for dealers today, just as it is for the rest of the merchandising, marketing and retailing world. But change has always revealed those who are willing to embrace new methods and profit from them. Just as consumers are grabbing the new tools available to them and using them to their best advantage, so too can savvy dealers. It’s all right there at your fingertips.

So now how does that story end? “This couple walks into a dealership …

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