Preparing for a Second Lockdown by Lauren Donalson

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Lauren Donalson Senior Director, National Accounts, PureCars Photo: PureCars

How Dealers are positioning themselves to deal with another potential business shutdown

After experiencing first-hand the challenges that come from a mandatory shutdown, many auto retailers—across the U.S. at least—are seeing the writing on the wall and are quickly preparing for possible shutdowns a second time.

In some areas, this reality is looming much closer.

Select Markets Seeing Lockdowns Again

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti recently issued an order for local residents to remain at home, saying the entire region is nearing a “devastating tipping point” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The mandate, similar to one earlier in the year, prohibits public and private gatherings of individuals and says that all businesses in the region with employees that work at a certain physical location must stop operations. What’s more, walking, driving, and travel on public transport, bikes, motorcycles and scooters are also prohibited, except for essential activities.

There continues to be some debate whether an auto retailer is considered “essential”, but clearly auto dealerships are gearing up for placement in either category that allows them to remain open or not.

What’s driving this decision is the “second wave” of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Los Angeles may not be the only region that considers or enacts a shutdown similar to what was experienced back in the spring.

With COVID-19 cases rapidly rising, dealers are looking at practices to ensure the safety of consumers and employees. Photo: Ford

As of early December, it was reported that more than 100,000 Americans were hospitalized, and more than 273,000 people in the U.S. have died from COVID-19 since the first cases were detected in January.

Better prepared this time

Auto retailers are more prepared this time around and are already taking the additional, necessary steps to keep customers and employees— and the bottom line—as healthy as possible.

Regardless of a second shutdown, demand for cars isn’t expected to plummet the way it did back in spring. Furthermore, Americans’ falling appetite for airline travel and limited public transportation means people will continue to shop for cars and trucks.

The largest questions that remain are centred around how dealers will continue to ramp up their digital retailing efforts to accommodate contactless transactions, and how they will refocus their digital advertising strategies to connect and engage with shoppers’ new concerns.

Reinforcing safety through digital advertising

For us at PureCars, one strategy to effectively do this is by having digital advertising specialists work with dealer clients to modify advertising copy and creative to ensure it addresses changing consumer needs. For example, advertising messaging is again reverting back to addressing pandemic-focused questions such as “are you open?”, “when are you open?”, and “what are you doing to keep me safe?”

Retailers have been revamping their websites to add a page that addresses health and safety concerns, and how they are taking care of employees and customers. These pages are then promoted through social media, boosted further by sponsored posts, and reinforced with email marketing campaigns.

Next, it is wise for dealers to make sure any change in-store hours are immediately reflected in their Google My Business profile. It has been observed that as much as 70% of all navigations and phone calls originate from this important page, and trusted digital advertising partners can help their retail partners maximize the opportunity to spread this message even further across the web.

New options

At-home test drives during shopping and free pickup/delivery for service are also new options many dealers are implementing. These are all added services that should also be included across all social media and digital advertising messages, in addition to the website. All this messaging should be constantly reinforced by service and sales managers through phone conversations with customers while also directing them to these additional pages to ease their concerns.

With these digital strategies front and center, auto retailers will ensure they properly communicate all the important steps they’re taking to keep customers and employees safe, while continuing to preserve the bottom line through the continued pandemic period.

Lauren Donalson is Senior Director of National Accounts for PureCars, a leading automotive dealer advertising and attribution technology provider.

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