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Hollis Goode Regional Vice President EFG Companies

Contributing Author:
Hollis Goode
Regional Vice President
EFG Companies

Did you take advantage of Amazon Prime Day? Spend a little time investigating the online deals promoted by Amazon or a dozen other major online retailers? Did you have an enjoyable digital experience, or form an opinion about a retailer thanks to your online shopping trip?

If you are like the majority of consumers, you relied on brand perception to point you to certain retailers. You researched your purchase against a couple of other online options. You vetted the product by checking reviews and ratings, and you hit the “Buy Now” button. You didn’t visit a store or consult an expert.

The importance of a digital presence is only continuing to grow in retail automotive. EFG Companies recently released a finding from its national consumer research study revealing the critical role of a dealership’s online presence in making a sale. According to the 1,500 respondents, today’s digital consumer begins their buying research process online. An Ernst & Young study showed that more than two-thirds of customers now spend less than 10 hours to research their vehicle purchase – down from 15 hours in 2016. This same study showed that consumers spend more time online researching a car than any other online purchase!

So, how does your digital presence stack up against other major retailers? Does your brand have sufficient weight to make your website the go-to resource when a consumer is researching a vehicle?

Like the old marketing adage says, “Your brand is everything!” This is especially important with today’s digital consumer. But how do you assess your brand value? An established dealership owner might say, “We’ve been in this community for 50 years! Everybody knows us!” While that might be true for those consumers who have been in the same community for 50 years, it does not factor in new residents or younger demographics. And, honestly, folks who have been around for ‘awhile’ are not your greatest potential consumer base.  Remember, by 2020, Millennials will be the largest vehicle purchasing population in the United States.

Now, your website is a top 3 point of engagement a customer has with your brand and your inventory. The site needs to be easy to navigate, represent current inventory, and offer touch points for access to your sales team. Providing a contact page with the dealership phone number and address are not sufficient. Your team needs to be digitally accessible via email, text or chatbots.

A Cox Automotive study showed that 7 in 10 consumers are more likely to buy from a dealership if they could start the process online. 83 percent of the nearly 3,000 consumers surveyed prefer to complete at least one aspect of the purchase process online, away from the dealership.

What do they want to do online?

  • 71 percent want to research incentives, add-ons and trade-in values.
  • 51 percent want to structure the deal.
  • 43 percent want to apply for financing/get pre-qualified.

These preferences are things to consider when evaluating your website.

Your Millennial customers are online all the time for both work and personal use. Having a social media presence is considered table stakes and we’re already seeing those dealerships with a vibrant presence gain preference.

To have an effective social media presence, you must use the same platforms your customers use. Whichever platform you choose, you must refresh it regularly and engage with your customers. Tweet about your sponsorship of the local little league baseball team, and retweet their content and photos. Create events and promotions on Facebook and invite your targeted customers to attend the annual open house. Use Instagram to promote your latest vehicle inventory and encourage a test drive of that snazzy sports car. You wouldn’t host a party and not talk to your guests. The same goes for your social media engagement.

As I mentioned previously, the typical online purchase is vetted through reviews or ratings. What used to be known as “word of mouth” is now viewed as reputation management. A personal referral or recommendation wields more power than any type of television ad, or firing up the grill and serving hot dogs on a Saturday.

Encourage your customers to give you a review after the sale. Train your team to make the ask. Print a flyer with a link to your Google reviews that will be given to every customer when they take delivery. Utilize window clings to promote your customer service ratings. You will receive both positive and negative comments; that’s just the nature of consumers. When you receive a negative comment, follow-up directly with the customer and online. This direct feedback offers a perfect opportunity to show your entire customer base that you value their business. When you get a good review, get out there and say thank you! Good reputation management is a clear demonstration that your dealership is customer-focused. 

Dealerships these days cannot afford to ignore the digital wave – and it’s past time to simply dip your toe in the water. Dive into digital – your bottom line will thank you.

With more than 40 years helping dealers navigate shifting consumer trends, EFG Companies knows how to maximize your profit potential in today and tomorrow’s automotive market. Contact us today to put our award-winning engagement model to work for you.

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