Digital retailing is not a new concept. Consumers have relied on it for years, whether for day-to-day purchases on sites like Amazon or, increasingly, for big-ticket items like appliances and electronics that can be picked up in-store.
Despite this evolution, the auto industry has historically been slow to adopt digital retailing into the car shopping experience. This is primarily due to the complexity involved with buying and selling vehicles, technology limitations and a more traditional business mindset, with a focus primarily on front-end marketing and basic lead generation.
That’s changing. Now that the automotive industry has access to proven, powerful and rapidly-evolving technology, dealers are adopting a digital retailing strategy in which consumers shop, calculate monthly payments and trade-in offers, and can initiate vehicle specific transactions, including applying for financing – all from a dealer-controlled website experience. This shift provides a more engaging customer experience, more control for dealers and will ultimately deliver faster, more profitable in-store transactions.
[The shift toward digital retailing] provides a more engaging customer experience, more control for dealers and will ultimately deliver faster, more profitable in-store transactions.
Achieving these outcomes requires more than just technology adoption. The top digital retailing approaches combine retailing functionality with a comprehensive digital experience that aligns completely with in-store operations. Here are the three essential concepts behind these winning strategies:
1) Alignment with today’s digital shopping experiences
Digital retailing is about more than new widgets on your website. It’s about aligning today’s consumer expectations with your in-store process. Accustomed to e-commerce, consumers now expect a completely seamless shopping and buying experience. They want to start online and want to complete the sale in the showroom. They gravitate to top e-retailers like Amazon because these sites facilitate complete control of every aspect of the purchase process—from initial research, to the moment they decide to make a buy, to the actual purchase. The rise of mobile has only heightened these expectations, as consumers can now shop wherever, whenever, and however they like.
This evolution creates an important opportunity for forward-thinking dealerships. By embracing consumer expectations and tailoring their online to in-store process accordingly, dealers can use all aspects of their digital presence to help move their customers deeper down the purchase funnel, transitioning them from “shopping mode” to “buying mode” without having to re-sell them in the physical dealership. As a result, shoppers are empowered and lead their own purchase journey, while dealers still remain in control of process and information they share on their site.
2) Customer-centric engagement – on every device
Similarly, a successful digital retailing approach focuses on the complete digital experience. That’s because the key outcomes of digital retailing – purchase initiation through a “Reserve it Now” lead or credit application – is only the culmination of a lengthy, customer-centric process that typically involves multiple mobile, desktop and tablet visits and numerous ad impressions.
Any digital retailing strategy must therefore consider every element of the digital experience, and configure each for a customer-centric path to purchase. This means examining your complete digital strategy to ensure it’s geared toward shoppability, speed and customer service as much as traditional lead generation. Start with your vehicle details pages: Do they provide an inviting retail experience like your showroom does, or are they just a series of flashy hooks and “bait and switch” tactics? How about your mobile site? Is it just a list of basic information and “calls to action,” or is it immersive and shoppable, with customer-centric content and functionality? Asking these types of questions, and addressing them in your digital strategy, will power effective digital retailing by guiding shoppers down a purchase path rather than just hooking them with a gimmicky call to action.
3) Profitability through transparency
The online world is fueled by infinite data. All customers who walk into your store have consulted dozens of sources to determine what they should pay for a vehicle. Most have also identified the approximate value of their trade-in, and their potential loan options, among other factors influencing their purchase.
Digital retailing helps you leverage this trend. By providing heightened transparency, your customers trust you enough to commit to your particular dealership experience – your digital rooftop – rather than myriad third parties and research sites to which they might otherwise navigate.
This trust translates to profitability. An enjoyable digital experience under your digital rooftop creates finance and trade-in ready leads that close at a higher rate. Customers who reach your store are ready to buy, and emerging data integration means part of the transaction is complete by the time they get there. The result is less time in the store, faster inventory turn, and the possibility of a new lifelong customer.
Ultimately, adopting these three concepts – shopper experience alignment, customer engagement, and transparency – is about more than technology. These are business strategies that must carry from the online to in-store environment in order to be successful. Those dealers that embrace this connectivity are seeing results today, and will be positioned to thrive over the long haul as the automotive purchase process continues to evolve online.