Legacy brands and innovative disruptors alike have set their sights on the auto market, creating an enormous sense of urgency for carmakers and dealerships to embrace change and reinvent the customer experience ... and fast.
Apple grabbed headlines when it announced plans to disrupt the auto market, in a move signaling “the end of the car as we know it,” according to The Wall Street Journal, and Ford generated buzz around the F-150 Lightning when President Biden took the electric vehicle prototype for a test ride.
Now the pressure is on auto brands to level up to consumers’ expectations. Especially post-pandemic, the dealership experience feels archaic. Consumers want more control on their terms. For auto brands, this means less time spent in dealerships—historically, their primary sales turf—and more time engaging online.
The pressure to update an analog sales experience to a tech-forward one puts auto brands at risk, but it also offers an opportunity to hit the reset button and transform the experience in a way that engages exponentially more customers.
The opportunity immediately in front of auto brands is to reimagine the dealership experience as a virtual one to both meet customer needs and drive sales.
Start by putting the consumer in the driver’s seat
While shopping for a car in-person allows the consumer to actually sit in the physical driver’s seat, they never feel like they’re in control of the buying experience.
That’s not the case with digital. Whether it’s an AR feature that allows the consumer to explore the interior on their own time or an interactive feature that lets them check out different packages and prices without any pressure to buy, digital has the power to give consumers control in ways the IRL experience never could.
This way, by the time the consumer shows up at the dealership, they’ve advanced further in the purchase process and they’re ready to buy. It may even allow brands to bypass the dealership altogether, ushering the consumer all the way to an online purchase.
Use personalization to rev sales
One thing the dealership experience does afford is the personal element. The best salespeople have learned how to tailor the conversation to the buyer’s unique needs and preferences. That same kind of personalization can carry over to the online experience at scale.
What if brands could make recommendations based on an analysis of a customer’s driving patterns? Or craft more dynamically generated, personalized content based on each shopper’s online interactions? A shopping experience more tailored to the individual customer in their digital lives will allow brands to build a deeper connection and capture more insight on their customer’s preferences for continued optimization of the experience.
Create an experience that’s seamless, online and on-premise
Auto brands need to think about their online and dealership experience as one contiguous process, because that’s how consumers see it. If a consumer invests more time online, they expect that to pay off with less time spent on-site.
Brands need to create a seamless, connected experience to match their customers’ expectations. For example, capturing the user’s inputs online to create a seamless test drive experience on-site. When the salesperson is armed with information on that shopper’s preferences based on the effort they already put into a digital experience, it’ll not only create a more relevant in-person experience but save time too. A faster buying experience helps brands more easily convert shoppers into buyers and frees up the sales team to service more customers.
The bottom line
While many of the changes that have occurred over the past year may feel ominous for auto brands that were already struggling with their consumer experience before the pandemic, they actually create an unexpected opportunity to start anew.
With new announcements from Apple and Ford generating excitement in the auto market and consumers eager to embark on post-pandemic life, now is the perfect time to introduce a new and improved car shopping experience that rectifies the pain points of the past and delights with added value, personalization and creative technology.