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The future of digital dealers: View from Alistair Horsburgh, CEO

You don’t need me to tell you that this has been a difficult year for dealerships and the automotive world as a whole. COVID-19 has forced everyone to fundamentally change the way they sell cars, run their workshops and communicate with customers.

However, it’s been heartening to see how dealerships – both the ones we work with at CitNOW and the wider network as a whole – have adapted. With physical contact out of the question for most of the year (and social distancing making it challenging even when visits were allowed), dealers have been very resourceful in using technology, and video in particular, to maintain their operations throughout. They have proven themselves very resilient and are now far better able to serve and accommodate remote customers than they were when the pandemic first took hold in March.

To gauge the scale of the change, we conducted a survey in mid-November, during England’s second lockdown. We received nearly 500 responses from industry professionals, which have shed light on some interesting attitudes – covering both how the CitNOW platform is used and the rising importance of video to dealers and customers across the country.

More than a short-term trend

Alongside our survey, we’ve dug into the data that the CitNOW platform generates, and it’s become clear that video is here to stay. September 2020 was our biggest-ever month in terms of the number of videos created at more than 1.06 million, and consumers have reacted to these videos positively, with the global watch rate up 21% compared to the same month in 2019.

Given that September was a month where only a small number of areas in the UK were under severe lockdown restrictions, it shows that the move towards virtual communications isn’t just borne out of necessity. And this explains why our survey found that 83% of dealers have invested in improving their contactless communications this year, making a meaningful change rather than just applying a temporary fix.

However, one trend that has been driven by lockdown is live video, where customers and dealers can connect through virtual viewing appointments to check out their prospective purchases. Usage of CitNOW’s live video feature has almost quadrupled during the second lockdown as dealers continue to reach out to customers in real-time.

Video is the future

In wider terms, dealerships have found that video is an immensely powerful tool within their communications when used effectively. That’s because video can be used in many different ways and across several different touchpoints to help build trust and keep customers informed.

Three-quarters of those surveyed say it helps them build strong relationships with their customers, and video has been cited as the most valuable digital tool for dealership operations this year. Indeed, video has become such a core part of dealer communications that it now ranks third in the list of the most important methods of keeping in touch with customers: only telephone and email come before it.

 

These trends show that video has a bright future within dealerships across the land, to the point that 91% of dealers say that they will use video more in the future in order to stay in touch with their customers.

Customer experiences redefined

The overall conclusion we can draw from our findings is that dealers were understandably concerned about building customer relationships without having face-to-face contact. However, our snapshot of industry opinion has shown that they value the power of video to provide a viable, practical alternative and are willing to put the investment in place to make the most of the opportunity.

This year will be remembered as one where dealers focused on their digital foothold more than ever before, and with video at the centre of the shift, it looks promising that this focus will last through 2021 and beyond.

If you’re looking for ways to take your videos and CitNOW experiences to the next level in 2021, register for one of our free webinars. We’ve also got a wealth of tips and advice on our How2CitNOW video series on YouTube.