COVID-19 has taken a devastating toll on large and small businesses across Canada, and automotive dealerships are no exception.
One positive development to emerge from this crisis is how streamlined the sales process has become, and how much easier it is for consumers to purchase vehicles. Transactions times have been reduced by as much as 50 per cent.
Pre-COVID, consumers did the bulk of their research online, and by the time they arrived at a dealership, they had narrowed their choice of model they wanted to buy.
For over two decades, shoppers have utilized the internet to shop for vehicles. Google estimates that the average car shopper engages in more than 900+ digital interactions before making a purchasing decision.
Today, it is possible to purchase a new or used vehicle entirely online. Everything from researching, selecting options and applying for a loan, to appraising, authorizing a purchase and taking delivery can be performed with a click of a mouse.
According to Brent Ravelle, dealer principal at Listowel Ford and Listowel Chrysler, and a board member at Trillium Automobile Dealers Association, COVID-19 has accelerated advances in digital capabilities and given consumers more options in how they purchase.
“We have seen a significant increase in online sales leads in the past six months,” says Ravelle. “We now accommodate both walk-ins and stay-at-home customers. Whatever a customer’s comfort level, we provide a quick and seamless buying process for all customers while meeting all of the new health and safety protocols.”
One of the services that Ravelle introduced at his dealerships is video walkarounds. A salesperson will provide a detailed virtual tour of a vehicle, pointing out various features and benefits, and answering questions in real time. “This has been a real popular feature with our customers,” says Ravelle.
Test drives have evolved in light of COVID as well. It used to be that a salesperson would accompany a customer on a test drive.
Nowadays, customers take test drives solo (in compliance with COVID health protocols), with a salesperson following in a separate vehicle. All vehicles are completely sanitized after each test drive.
Although some customers are choosing to purchase a vehicle entirely online, avoiding a test drive is not recommended. A test drive allows customers to evaluate the features on a vehicle and provides a tactile driving experience, an activity that cannot be replicated online.
Most dealerships now have the option of allowing customers to authorize purchases digitally, a practice that was almost non-existent six months ago. (Some dealers have allowed digital signatures for several years.)
Appraisals are also a part of the buying process that happens entirely online. As long as the information provided about a vehicle is accurate, the appraised value of a car or truck will remain unchanged when a transaction is completed.
Service departments have also evolved in the past six months. Most dealerships now offer a valet service that provides peace of mind for customers who are concerned about visiting a dealership in person.
“COVID has been a catalyst in moving the retail car industry forward,” says Tony Del Gobbo, dealer principal of Orillia Hyundai and Newmarket Hyundai and a TADA board member. “We now routinely pick up vehicles from customers’ homes, drive them to our dealership to perform maintenance or repairs, and return it to the customer.”
Del Gobbo has stepped up the shop-at-home features on his dealerships’ websites, allowing customers to book service appointments from their PC, tablet or smartphone.
Indeed, thanks to advances in technology and dealerships’ commitment to making their businesses safer for consumers, we have arrived at a new era in automotive retailing – an era where consumers have more flexibility in how they purchase vehicles.
This column represents the views and values of the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association, representing 1,100 franchised, new car and truck dealers across Ontario. Write to email@example.com or go to tada.ca. Todd Bourgon is Executive Director of the TADA