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The 4 Truths of Connected Retail – According to Cox Automotive

How many of you have asked a customer what they would change about the buying process?

You know, right after they get out of F&I and have spent the better part of their Saturday drinking your coffee and eating your donuts and popcorn. Are they excited about the purchase, but exhausted by the 3 hr. experience?

It is a question many of us are scared to ask because if you listen to some experts, the days of the dealership are OVER. Everyone wants to buy everything online—from $2 dog food to $70,000 cars.

This is a notion I have never subscribed to for many reasons, but the biggest being that consultants, if trained right, bring so much value to the automotive buying experience.

That is probably why 4 Truths of “Connected” Retail resonated with me in such a big way. This study, done by Cox Automotive, surveyed over 2500 in-market shoppers concerning what they want out of the car buying experience.

Spoiler Alert – they don’t want to get rid of brick and mortar dealerships.

I’m going to give you the 30,000 ft look at this robust study and highlight the game-changing points that we need to implement now, if you have not already.

Truth #1: Your customers want to start their buying process online now.


Your customers want to start their buying process online now 83%

That is the percentage of people who want to complete one or more steps of the buying process online. Granted, most of these fall in the initial stages of the purchase cycle, but this goes way beyond inventory listings and your online price. These are low funnel, want-to-buy-it-now shoppers who want to speed up the process.

There is a freedom, and an implied anonymity, involved with completing specific information online. And when the consumer can do this at home, on her couch with a cup of coffee as opposed to in a dealership, in a plastic chair, it is a win.

Some elements they want to complete online are:

  • Researching warranty
  • Trade-in Offers
  • Add-ons for the vehicle
  • Incentives
  • Making a deposit

These shoppers are giving all the buying signals – they are just looking for a way, on your website, to start the process in a personalized, independent way.

These are not overly complicated steps or new features. In fact, I am sure the majority of you have a trade tool or incentives feature on your site. The challenge will how to present this to the customer.

Make sure the process is clearly marked, that the steps are laid out for them, and that it is as simple as possible. If you have tried elements of this process before and feel like it yielded no return, try it again. Make it clear. Make it simple.

Shoppers are more accustomed to making big purchases online, and this is the right time to do ityou’re your parents can secure financing for a house completely online, we should be able to get the initial steps of a car purchase completed, too.

Your consumer wants a blended, faster, personalized car-buying experience—and they want to complete as much of the initial process online as possible. Customer dissatisfaction is currently at an all-time high, with the biggest issue being time spent in dealership. If you can reduce that, even 30 minutes, satisfaction will go up, your close rate will increase, and you will have more repeat customers.

Truth #2 Your Dealership is Essential to Completing the Sale

83% may want to complete much of the car-buying process online, but 89% want to finalize the deal in-store.


Your Dealership is Essential to Completing the Sale

Customers want to come into the dealership-and who wouldn’t? There is an energy in a dealership like none other. It is hard to enjoy, though, when you have to wait 3 hours, you are hungry, and you had to be someplace an hour ago.

But even though they want a faster, more efficient process, customers want to sign the final papers with you so you can answer any questions.

They want you to go over the many connected features that they may or may not understand.

They want to be reassured that you will be there should they drive off the lot and then have questions.

Which leads us to Truth #3.

Truth #3: Dealership Staff are Valuable Consultants

No matter what your role in automotive, you should strive to be seen as an expert consultant. That means the days of high pressure sales and haggling may be winding down.

6/10 Customers would still want help from dealership staff, even if they could purchase online.

80% would never purchase a car without a test drive.

Dealership Staff are Valuable Consultants

Customers want you to answer questions, be a product specialist (which means ALL your sales staff should know more about the vehicles than the customer), and assist them through the rest of the buying journey. Training will be a key element in the future of the dealership. Staff needs to be trained not only on product, but on excellent customer service. These elements will help ensure customer satisfaction and higher close rates.

So, if customers want to speed up the process, spend less time in a dealership, but also interact with you concerning the deal, are they asking for too much? Is this a unicorn experience, or is it reality?

Actually, it goes together perfectly.

If a customer fills out necessary forms online, applies for credit, gets a trade valuation, and knows what incentives are out there already, they could be saving more than 30 minutes. When asked what they would do with the additional time they would have, they stated they would get information/training on the vehicle purchased.

  • They want product knowledge.
  • They want to know about the buttons and Bluetooth and touch screens and ports.
  • And you will have time to show them, because they will give it to you if you speed up other areas of the process.

Truth #4: Dealers Gain a Competitive Edge By Offering Online Steps to the Sale

If you have read anything, you have read that customers are searching out dealerships who will personalize their buying experience. Ones who will offer as much of the process online as they are comfortable with. If 7/10 customers are more likely to buy from a dealership if they could start the process online, would you get their business?


Dealers Gain a Competitive Edge By Offering Online Steps to the Sale

These online approaches resonate with service as well. Customers are 55% more likely to get their car serviced from a dealership who offers an online service scheduler and/or online estimates. They are more likely to service their car there, and more likely to become repeat/referral customers.

A digital retail approach will not put you out of business—it will keep you at the head of the game.

Tying it all together

The days of the brick and mortar dealership are far from over. Customers need the dealership to give advice, to educate, and to bring reassurance to the car buying process.

But they want the time spent to be time well spent.

Offer as many online options as possible for the buying customer. Clearly label it on the site (don’t hide it 5 links deep under a menu option they may never click on).

Once the customer is in the showroom, it is time for the product specialists to educate, inform, and build relationships with the new customer.

This is an exciting time in automotive. Customers are driving the experience and demanding more. Are you listening?

Founder of DealerRefresh - 20+ Years of dealership Sales, Management, Training, Marketing and Leadership.
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