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Due to the pandemic, consumers have been forced to provide credit card information online to shop for groceries, medication and other household staples. PHOTO Shutterstock

Catering to the customer.

As soon as the pandemic hit, dealers went into action. With showrooms closed, the only option was to provide consumers with online alternatives.

But now that stores are open, with guidelines to keep customers and staff safe, there’s a new hurdle. How to blend the online/offline customer experience?

“You have to give the customer a choice,” says Jim Williamson, Owner, and General Manager, Williamson Chrysler Ltd. in Uxbridge, Ontario.

“Some consumers still don’t feel comfortable providing financial information online. Or they want to come in and see the vehicle. People want a little of both, and they want it to be seamless.”

Due to the pandemic, consumers have been forced to provide credit card information online to shop for groceries, medication, and other household staples. “Otherwise, they’d never have given this financial information online.”

Online warranties and protection items are only just now getting into dealerships. “A lot of our vendors didn’t have a full online experience because some of those modules weren’t necessarily available.”

Bricks and mortar   

While Williamson does a few completely online sales every month, he’s seeing showroom traffic slowly increase. “This situation is showing me that people still like the dealership, and there’s a use for bricks and mortars,” he says. “But it’s a blended situation.”

His solution is to provide options to purchase online, not just the transaction, but in every department. “We need to offer multiple ways of how they can purchase that product or service, depending on who they are and what they want,” says Williamson.

As a result, he’s chosen MotoInsight for his dealership. “It’s an online solution that allows consumers to go in and out, and change what they want,” says Williamson. “I’m trying to give the consumer an experience that doesn’t send them down a one-way street.”

Accelerated interest

According to Matt Lawson, Vice President of Dealer Software and OEM Business Development at TRADER, digital retailing is hardly new to the automotive industry. “We’ve been talking about it over the last three to five years,” he states.

Research shows that consumers are looking to improve their shopping experience over a conventional retail situation, and have been for some time.

As a result, there’s been an accelerated interest in completing more car buying online, prompting TRADER to launch its digital retailing solution in May.

Lawson acknowledges that every customer is different, and it’s important that the car shopping journey allows for that flexibility.

“Our digital retailing solution is omnichannel,” he explains. “We can create a seamless transition between online and offline.

It’s bi-directional, it’s not one dimensional. If you’re building a deal online, when you get into the dealership, everything that you did upstream in an online environment will be your reality.”

In other words, consumers can complete their transaction online after an offline experience. If a consumer is in the midst of a transaction online, and they decide to go offline, they can always go back to the online.

It all depends on how the dealer utilizes the platform. There’s usually an evolution with dealers once they are onboarded with the product, learning to use it until it becomes embedded in their organization and part of the transaction.

Typically, the online portion of the purchase includes vehicle research, pricing configurations, and then reviewing incentives, and trade valuations. These actions and more can be completed within the TRADER digital retailing solution.

They can also work in tandem with the remote selling suite engagement tools including live chat, appointment scheduling, booking or reserving a vehicle, placing a deposit, and making a valuation.

“These help a consumer with their decision, and identify if they want to engage with the dealer,” says Lawson. “The tools drive engagement.”

The most important part of making the experience seamless is ensuring payments are accurate. “Is the consumer using a tool that’s providing data directly from the OEM or just a payment calculator?” says Lawson.

“If you’re using a standard payment calculator, the likelihood of that payment being penny-accurate when you’re in the store and completing the transaction is less likely than if you’re using the tool that’s pulling in OEM programs, incentives, and rebates.

“Any discrepancy there can bump somebody out of their affordability range. That’s why dealers have to use tools from partners who get data directly from the OEM. Price consistency is the foundation for building trust and transparency with customers. ”

Phone calls

But even in the face of data like Google Think Auto that shows over 60 percent of Canadians buying a car said they could use an online option, David Sharma disagrees.

While he admits his sample size is not as wide as Google, the founder of Dealer InLine says that phone calls are superseding digital tools.

“You would think that with the pandemic, people would be more apt to go online, but from what I’ve seen, the opposite applies,” says Sharma. “I feel that people have had enough time on screen and they’re ready to go back to talking to people.”

He has metrics that show phone call usage has increased significantly. The webchat is also increasing. “Consumers may be trying to use chat services as a virtual person,” says Sharma.

When the pandemic came around, he was sure that everything was going to transition to online. “But even the influx of online credit applications was a lot less than average.”

He feels that dealers need to do a better job on the phone and in person. Any messaging on a dealer’s website needs to be reflected in their store. “If you’re describing the measures you’re taking to keep your dealership safe, then it needs to be happening.”

 

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