COVID-19 Update: Car Buyers Know What They Want

By Desiree Homer

The New Rules of Customer Engagement

Dealers are hustling online to offer touch-less car-buying experiences, but there’s another piece to the customer journey puzzle that may be getting lost in the shuffle. It’s not just about engaging digitally or with virtual options. Some dealerships are recognizing that those customers who are reaching out, are doing so with their purchasing decisions already made. They’re educated on precisely what they want to buy and how they want to buy it. Those retailers who are prepared to meet those transactional preferences may be able to profit exponentially.

What One Cadillac Dealership Recognizes as a Growing Trend

Betten Baker Chevrolet Buick & Cadillac’s general manager, Evan Godfrey, shared some of his observations with regard to customer behavior over the last few weeks. He says they see more of those who are only in desperate need of a vehicle right now, and not so much the customer who may just be tired of his 2017 model sedan. These buyers are making contact, knowing precisely what they want to buy. Because of the public and government-imposed caution with shopping, customers appear to still be hesitant to venture out, unless there is a dire need. Godfrey also thinks people are weighing the importance of the new purchase or needed service long before they connect with the dealership. Once they engage, their mission is to complete the transaction safely, and with value confidence.

Selling May Mean Selling the Process, Not the Product

With increasing manufacturer incentives now and on the horizon, along with all of the digital resources available to perform vehicle research, customers are selling themselves on the vehicles and their ideal buying timelines. When it comes time to make their purchase, the opportunity for a dealer to engage the car buyer is paramount. Customers will move forward with their transactions at those stores that offer convenient, safe, and valuable methods for doing so. It’s a shift away from selling a buyer on a car, and more about promoting the unique buying process your dealership offers. Selling points may be shifting away from trendy vehicle features, and more towards buying from a properly sanitized retailer, with virtual F&I options and online price negotiations.

Redefining the Rules of Engagement

With digital and hands-free solutions being a necessity, dealers can prepare for these as long-term changes, as well. The customer rules of engagement are shifting, and sales staff will need to be ready for social distant selling techniques, like disinfecting a vehicle before and after each test drive. Managers will need to abandon the four-square negotiations at the table and embrace number-crunching at the keyboard. Trade-in evaluation methods will transform, as will the F&I office signing processes.

Sales may be slow, but they will begin to rebound soon. With the prospect of lifting mitigation efforts around the country, car buyers will once again be ready to purchase. But, in this new post-COVID-19 environment, they’ll want a different experience. To hear more about when, where, and what to market right now, tune into the Dealer News Today podcast with Larry Bailin, Digital Marketing Executive at Single Throw Marketing, and best-selling author. Evan Godfrey says his new methods of engagement, with mostly touchless processes and heavy sanitation efforts, has his dealership on point to hit his 30%-40% of normal monthly sales goal. It’s about finding a way to progress during these uncertain times that can signify the changing landscape to come.