Consumers always have and always will seek the path of least resistance to get the best deal they can when they purchase a new or pre-owned vehicle; and you can’t blame them. Similarly, it is understandable that auto dealers always have and always will try to define what the best deal is for their customers; and it typically includes preserving a fair profit. Unfortunately, their objectives aren’t always weighted the same; even though they should be.
Today’s internet educated customers have fewer reasons to rely on an auto dealer for the information they need to purchase a vehicle. Online resources by third party providers and social networks of likeminded consumers offer easier access to relevant transparent information and they have more credibility with shoppers than auto dealers.
Competitive product comparisons and even price negotiations are more convenient in virtual showrooms than in real ones. Next generation technology driven applications have automated the process for online customers who can now select a vehicle, compare it to other dealer offers, appraise their trade, apply and get approved for credit, compute an out the door payment and solicit the advice and support of their family and friends without ever having to involve a sales person.
Frankly, the only control still held by dealers is the fact that most people like to test drive a vehicle before they buy it, they prefer the human touch when making a decision and they will always need to have it serviced at a facility that is conveniently located. Unfortunately old school auto dealers need to accept that even that control is being eroded.
Video chat programs and video FAQ’s on websites can now answer most questions in real time better than most sales consultants. Pending changes in legislation will soon allow dealers to deliver a vehicle to a customer’s home or office with a financial agreement that will protect the dealer while allowing the consumer time to return the vehicle for virtually any reason. Finally, many OEM’s are experimenting with remote service facilities that are not linked to a sales showroom.
All of these evolutionary changes benefit the consumer and even the OEMs who has always had their eye on reducing the costs of their distribution channels. Franchised auto dealers will still play a role in the technology and consumer driven market of the future; as will their sales staff. However, auto dealers must reduce their expenses and increase the value added services they contribute to the process or they will be designing their own obsolescence.
Auto dealers that want to survive into tomorrow must start making the necessary changes to their business model today. They must increase their use of technology driven marketing and sales processes in their real and virtual showrooms to improve their margins and remain competitive. They need to leverage their most valuable asset, their customer base, through the use of social media and automated data base marketing to improve customer satisfaction, retention and loyalty. They need to provide training for their staff and information for their customers that helps them make a buying decision vs. trying to “sell” them something.
Simply put, auto dealers must accept the fact that change and human nature are two constants in the auto industry that must be recognized and addressed. More specifically, online transactions powered by consumer demand and acceptance of technology driven solutions is a reality for tomorrow that is already being constructed today!