A New Focus On The “Online to In-Store” Consumer Experience

Watch as Bob George, AVP of Product Management at Dealer.com, details how dealers can better bridge the online to in-store consumer shopping experience.

By Bob George

For the last few years, dealers have put significant focus into how best to bridge the online and in-store consumer experiences into a singular, cohesive shopping journey. Progressive dealers have embraced capabilities such as automotive digital retailing, personalization, reputation management, and service department marketing in an attempt to move as much of the in-store process online. These tools save consumers time at the dealership and build trust through transparency and shopper-centric online experiences. 

But what happens when the in-store experience is put on pause for the foreseeable future? 

As  consumers  hunker down in their homes, it’s imperative that dealers take a serious look at moving more and more of their shopping experience  online to generate automobile leads, allowing  consumers  to prepare for purchase from the safety of their own homes.  Whether valuing their trade- in, exploring the latest (and very aggressive) financing offers,  or understanding  delivery options for both service and vehicle purchase, the dealership website  represents the best reliable avenue for consumers to learn about their choices.  

Two  capabilities that enable dealers to answer consumers’ critical questions  online  are Digital Retailing and website personalization.  Personalizing the website with relevant and timely offers drive shoppers into the digital retailing experience. And digital retailing enables consumers to complete more of the shopping process online  and at home – something that will  become more important even when COVID-19 passes.  

Consumers are going to continue to seek to minimize time spent in the dealership at purchase. Businesses that enable a more seamless online to in-store (or online to delivery) process – and educate their customers via website content and advertising messaging – will be best positioned in the future.  

As dealerships navigate this uncertain time, they should focus on using their website to answer the following questions from consumers:  

  • Is the dealership open, and if so, are there modified hours?  This question is best answered with simple website messaging, including slides, banners, and landing pages. Quick and simple access to information is the best recipe here. 
  • If I need to get my car serviced, do I need to worry?  Simple messaging goes a long way here. We’ve seen some dealers offer vehicle delivery and pickup, some showing customers their disinfection process, and some doing variable service hours to reduce the number of techs in the dealership at any given time. Fixed ops advertising campaigns with content to support these new service processes create awareness as consumers search how best to get their car serviced. 
  • Do I qualify for special financing and payment deferrals?  Several manufacturers are offering very aggressive financing rates as well as payment deferrals. Getting these messages out requires a full-court digital marketing press – advertising including video campaigns, website personalization with up-to-date incentives, and robust digital retailing capabilities to showcase purchase power as well as payment relief OEMs and dealers are offering. 
  • How much of the purchase process can I complete online?  Digital retailing tools can help move more and more of the process online. However, it is imperative that dealers implementing these tools recognize that digital retailing  shoppers don’t leave traditional “leads.” Instead, these shoppers must be treated as much farther along in the car-buying process, especially if they are using the online tools to explicitly avoid an in-store visit. Consumers are investing time in the process online and should be rewarded for that investment with personalized, relevant follow-up communications. 
  • Is the dealership offering home vehicle delivery or other “social distancing” options?  Like the service process, simple messaging via landing pages, advertising, and website slides/banners goes a long way here. Consumers will inevitably have questions and want to call, email, or text the dealership for more info – so make sure the steps to get those questions answered are clear. 
  • And finally – is the dealership taking care of its employees?  We know that more and more consumers make purchase decisions based on a company’s social responsibility.  Expressing what a dealership is doing for the safety and well-being of their employees can go a long way in building lasting relationships with consumers. This is a new experience for all of us, and we’re all navigating this together – as people first and foremost. 

At Dealer.com we remain deeply committed to our partnership with our dealers.  Please don’t hesitate to reach out and let us know how we can help.