The traditional dealership model has been successful for well over a century. And, in those 100 and some odd years, there have been a lot of lessons learned. I remember when I was young and we drove past dealerships all lined up nicely in a row. Their signs, their colors, their cars. It always reminded me of an automotive wonderland. I always had a thing for cars and am lucky to be able to work in the industry that I have such a strong passion for.

Since the very first car dealership was established in the 1890s, the automotive industry has grown and evolved but I would argue that the industry has not ever seen this level of disruption in the customer journey. Before the pandemic, before Cash for Clunkers, before everything we’ve known about automotive retail in the last 22 years, there have been several ups and downs in the world. Some of these events rocked the globe. Others were felt at the core of this country. But each event has played a role in forming the history of our industry. 

Think of it like this. In the last two years alone, our industry has experienced many trials. Some persisted as difficult challenges while others inspired innovation and triumph. The way dealerships operate today is forever changed due to the events of the past two years. People are spending more time online. Consumers are ordering vehicles without even seeing them. The price of used vehicles has skyrocketed as new models have been hard to obtain. This is our reality.

With consumers spending more time online, they are also now spending less time at the dealership. When it comes to the traditional buying journey, shoppers are approaching the path to purchase differently. They are further along in the decision-making funnel and they are coming to the dealership far more educated than ever before. This means that you and your sales teams need to be prepared with the best technology solutions and data to help you adapt to the new frontier of automotive retail.

Scrutinize how you are marketing, writing ads, selling, and interacting with your customers. What digital efforts are you leveraging? Have you evolved your SEO and social media programming?

Simply having touchpoints isn’t enough anymore. Sure, the customer may see your content, but if you aren’t engaging and offering tangible ways to interact with you and your inventory, then you are losing out on potential sales. Also, your marketing will provide a unique opportunity to source inventory. Whether you are active or passive on social media, your customers are there and ready to interact if you present relevant and engaging content. As it stands, the average person spends 147 minutes on social media per day. Those minutes are digging into the average time a customer will spend on your lot, so it’s more important than ever to have the right conversations and tools on hand so that you can have data-driven discussions that will build trust with your customers.

Another impact of consumers spending more time online and less at the dealership is that they are coming to your lot prepared with more information than ever before. The modern customer is smart, well-researched, and ready with questions that your team might not be able to address. If this is a problem that your dealership has encountered, then you need to arm your staff with tools to transform them into instant product experts. The more knowledgeable your salespeople are, the better equipped they will be to step into a consultative and trusted position.

The bottom line is that most consumers will still shop your lot. But the buying journey has clearly changed. Recognize and embrace this new customer journey. Know that what matters most is the relationship you build with your customers. It’s not simply about their trade-in anymore. Consumers expect more and if you build a meaningful and trusted relationship with them, they will transact with you and they will be loyal.

Whether you are already making strides with your marketing and advertising goals or not, now is the time to uplevel your digital marketing. Deals are happening online and inventory is being sold and acquired through more and more digital players. To continue to compete, you must step into the next generation of dealership management and engage your customers where they are. If you need help, please reach out to me directly and I will show you how to prepare your dealership for the future.