FEEDBACK FROM THE FIELD: DIGITAL RETAILING - IS TODAY'S WORLD READY? 

Opportunity Just Ahead

By Anissa Collins

Looking In an industry pushing for digital retailing, we ask automotive dealers affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, "Is it premature?" Here's their response. 

As a company, we’ve been talking to dealers across the country, even in New York and California as representative of the hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, and asked them the questions, “What do you see as the future of completed end-to-end digital retailing? Do you think it’s going to help you grow your business as a fundamental change in the buying process and something you think you will move to?” 

The honest answer is a resounding, “No.”

EXAMPLE: A large dealer group and partner in Oklahoma reported record-breaking months for this year over last year from lot sales! Their observation is that consumers are still purchasing vehicles directly from the dealerships’ showroom floors.

So it got me thinking about the current state of digital retailing in automotive. Its value lies in the fact that most people are tired of the former 5-hour buying process and haggling with the ‘man behind the curtain’; therefore, by eliminating those steps online they can shorten the timeline and eliminate friction. 

Here are a few reasons why I'm not sure it's truly realistic in today's world:

Feel the Wheel

Put yourself in the seat of a consumer – because at the end of the day we’re all consumers. They want to know their options and they still want the visual and tangible experience. They want to know how their specifications look like in payment, then they want to compare with similar vehicles, and finally, it hits them emotionally. Now that they’ve sat in a particular car or truck, they might realize they do need all the bells and whistles that seemed like a luxury before. I believe that consumers still have to sit in the seat to feel the wheel.


Not many people are fully able to grasp the idea of buying online for direct home delivery. That’s to say there are not many like me; I've personally owned four Yukons so I know exactly what I want, what I don't want, and I know that I'm going to buy another Yukon. I know I need an SLT and what options package I need. Whatever you show up with, as long as you have the color and features I want, and I’ve already worked out the payment - I'm good! But how many people truly go and buy the same make and model of a car, four different times over the span of 12 years like I have?

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Most consumers don’t know the difference between an LT and an SLT. They don’t know the difference between the plethora of options available. My husband is six feet tall for instance; does he have enough leg room? When I have my grandkids; are all three car seats going to fit in the back? There are so many personal preferences that consumers just have to see for themselves. They can search and educate themselves online ahead of time but most of them still want to see it. 

Financial and Emotional Attachments

A house is the largest purchase people make. Vehicles are the second. This is another reason why so many consumers are still driving to the stores. Being that it is such a major financial decision, buyers need to make sure it’s the right one. You don't buy a house without knowing how many bathrooms it has, what the fixtures in the kitchen look like, or if it’s big enough for entertaining. It’s a bit like that with automotive.

While I understand there are consumers, like myself, who are loyal to a particular make and model without straying too far off the beaten path, the reality is that most consumers aren’t ready for that in today’s real world. 

A Good Deal When You SEE It

Even throughout the global and national business pause, with short or staggered staff, unless your dealership is in the hardest hit areas, store foot traffic never fell off or is back on the rise because people still want to lay eyes on the car, truck, or SUV. Coupled with OEM incentives and the options to delay payment, purchasing a vehicle right now is alluring. Taking those specials into consideration makes it tough for consumers to not take another look at resetting the clock on mileage with a new vehicle.


These examples tell the part of the story of why we are seeing more dealership visits than we are less. Do buyers want to get all the haggling out of the way prior to going there? Yes, as much as possible. A quick Google search will educate buyers on options and many dealership websites are equipped with online tools already in place for trade estimates, accurate finance calculators, and credit application submit forms – all available without a digital retailing platform. Not many of us in automotive thought we were going to set record-breaking months going into this pandemic. But here we are on the other end of the first wave and some dealers have done just that - and have done so with foot traffic to their stores. 

Digging for More

Armed with this knowledge and feedback from our own dealer-partners, large groups across the country, and our own consumer database, we followed-up to ask questions like, “What do you anticipate your plan being to recover?”. The word ‘conquest’ was recurring, but after digging a bit deeper, we found that what they really meant was that they needed ‘Opportunities’.

P.S.   I've always been a firm believer that if you just listen to your clients and dealers, they'll tell you what they need you to go build to help them. It’s our job, as responsible partners, to go do it - and do it well. 

More Is Not Just More

Dealers since the beginning of time need more opportunities. The difference today is that we aren’t simply blasting out a tone-deaf message in an attempt to drive 10,000 people to the blacktop so 3 can really be in a position to buy, it’s about creating more efficiency so that my entire staff doesn’t have to spend valuable time working every deal for a low return on effort. It’s not more opportunities they want, it’s collecting important intel about the prospect so dealers can sell more strategically for quick turnaround. More is not just more – it has to be strategically more. 

Dealers today don’t have to wait for consumers to interface with them. As we’ve progressed in this industry, we've found ways to proactively engage consumers with relevant and personalized messaging with topics on which we actually know they want to converse. We no longer have to guess at our campaigns and hope to get a response; we know which door that brought them in if you will, and once they open the door we watch where they go. That’s the beauty of the granular trackability and customer view now available. 

FOR EXAMPLE: After delivering a marketing communication piece we are able to walk our dealers through where a consumer clicked on their new car inventory before going out to look at six new cars, then they jumped to a Certified Pre-Owned, they then teetered around another new car, and went back to CPO. That's the kind of fact-finding that any salesperson would be thrilled to have in-hand to help inform their next move and set up for closing success. 

Real Consumer Behavior in Real Time

The advantage of having consumer behavior intelligence ahead of time is a true game-changer; to identify a person that we know is currently and actively engaged with your marketing and on your website in the last 24 hours is priceless! Your sales process is fast-forwarded and you are able to meet expectations with information that prompts the sale that is farther down the funnel. 

NOTE: These people are intentionally engaging with you digitally, but not picking up the phone or filling out online forms or a lead elsewhere. They aren’t in your call-log funnel, they aren’t in your floor funnel, and they're not in your internet leads funnel. But they are looking at you. More importantly, an opportunity exists that you are not aware of today.

Some successful dealers and successful companies and BDCs may already be generating their own leads in their own database right now. Now let’s go that extra mile to connect the dots between, for example, a person in an equity position on your website who’s checked out three Honda Accords in the last 24 hours that originated from a newsletter targeted to their interests. They’re not in a call funnel, they haven’t been on the showroom floor and they haven’t submitted a lead. Yet now, the path to the quick purchase can begin. It’s a win-win.

We not only give dealers the opportunities of which they asked, but we also give opportunities they didn’t even know they had. These days, most dealers are in the position of having to do more with less. We make sure that we’re maximizing the less with more optimized opportunities and getting everyone through the buying process quicker...and happier.

While  "The Road Backmay not look the same to every dealership, we knew we would all get through this together. We’ve seen the numbers reflect a higher demand and foot-traffic than possibly expected, we know there is a large pool of lease-ends opening up, and we still have access to OEM incentives. 


So let me ask again - what does The Road Back look like for you?



Anissa Collins
VP of Sales