I’ve hit a moment of Zen, or maybe it’s a muddy rut, along the path of my car-buying journey. I recently went to test drive several vehicles that I had configured and requested online. As I wrote in my last post, I was shocked at the lack of interaction, general customer courtesy, and knowledge that I experienced during the whole process. No one that I talked to at any of the car dealerships I visited seemed to have any real understanding of the car-buying process. After I left, I didn’t receive any follow-up information or contact. When I did contact companies requesting more information on the car, I didn’t even receive a call back!
It’s ironic that my first face-to-face human interactions with the automotive brands were so lacking in human interaction.
The State of Retail Car Sales
If you think about it, why are the physical retail sites needed anyway? To wash the cars before handing over the keys? To give interested consumers a place to research the cars using printed brochures? I mean, someone’s got to keep those brochure racks stocked, right? Or maybe it’s finance. Anyone who’s purchased a vehicle through a dealership has had to sit in the financial room of doom and sign their life away.
Unfortunately for these retail sites, the technical world, and the people living in it, have grown up. Consumers are accustomed to—and in many cases prefer—researching the brochure content on their own using the Internet. Loans are processed remotely every single day without the need to sit down at the table with someone and sign papers. Oh, and GAP insurance is available online too … sorry.
Even when it comes to delivery, it wouldn’t be strange to have car companies deliver the vehicle to your doorstep as opposed to having someone who has no interest in who you are handing over the keys—and probably charging a dealer fee. This level of service could differentiate the automotive brands while eliminating dealership overhead.
A Call to Action
In order to succeed, retail car businesses need to interact with their customers in a valuable and fun way. They need to show interest in why the customer is buying a certain car, and help guide them along in their purchase. They need to be knowledgeable about the features of the vehicle and be able to answer questions the consumer might have.
This is human interaction, and it can be very hard. It involves implementing better marketing and automation to provide consumers with a more fluid experience as they move from researching the car online to actually coming in for a test drive. It involves follow-up contact after the test drive to see if there are any questions, or at least calling the customers back when they call asking for more information. This involves training the right people with the right human interaction skills to provide a better retail experience.
Because in the end, if retail doesn’t do it, the automotive manufacturers will. Think about it, a manufacturer could take one niche vehicle, sell it only online, and see how it performs. It if it does well, add another, slowing reducing the size of your retail presence while investing more in online advertising and customer experience. Pretty soon research and discovery, private test drives, online financing, and door-to-door delivery will be the new norm, and the need for the retail car business will be no more.