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How car dealers can prepare for the “new normal”

In a matter of weeks the lives of all of us have been turned upside down. The way we work, live and socialise has changed dramatically. The way we shop has changed too.

As a result of social distancing measures, physical shopping has all but ground to a halt. Only essential food and medicines can be purchased from a retail outlet. Meanwhile, digital, contactless shopping methods have soared in popularity – in many cases to breaking point.

Yet, for many industries, including the automotive sector, capitalising on this spike in online demand is not quite as easy. Despite some companies offering completely online car buying experiences, it’s far from the norm.

As a result, it’s fair to say that almost everybody in the automotive industry is hoping that things return to normal as soon as possible – as do we here at CitNOW. However, what that “normal” looks like is far from clear.

Many consumers will have become accustomed to more digital online shopping methods. Acceptance of a contactless retail experience will have grown and many retailers will have crafted more digital products and services in response to the pandemic.

It could be argued that these changes were on their way already, but the current pandemic has certainly sped up this transformation in buyer behaviour. Either way, these new attitudes will almost certainly persist long after the COVID-19 outbreak. In this blog we’re going to explore three ways car retailers can prepare for the post-pandemic buyer.

The online shop window

As we’ve already discussed, the way we all shop has likely changed forever. Even more than before, the internet is the new high street, and your online presence is your shop (or showroom) window.

Although physical footfall is down, online traffic seems to have taken an upward turn. In fact, a study carried out in the U.S found that online dealership traffic was up by around 6%. This might sound modest, but there’s also signs demand may rise significantly once things begin to return to normal. Auto Trader’s recent poll found that 40% of people that previously used public transport plan not to do so after COVID-19 restrictions are eased. They also found that 14% of people that did not currently own a vehicle intended to purchase one as a result of the pandemic. So, although immediate demand may be down, it looks like lots of people will be researching their next car now – although maybe from the sofa, not from the forecourt.

Improving your digital customer experience will help you benefit from this rise in online traffic as acceptance of contactless selling grows.

Maybe your website needs a refresh, maybe your digital assets could do with a makeover or maybe you need to rethink your entire online sales strategy. However you decide to improve your online presence, now is a good time to start.


Contactless communication

Although social distancing has forced less contact between us, many organisations have seen an opportunity to strengthen their contactless, digital relationships with customers.

Take for example Mercedes’ campaign to reinforce the importance of social distancing, or BMW’s more light-hearted printable board game campaign. Both of which are designed to maintain communication with customers, while physical interaction is impossible.

Building relationships with your customers in this way during social distancing will undoubtedly help you bounce back – staying visible and present will mean you’re at the front of people’s minds when they do think about buying their next car.

We know that many dealerships are running with less people than normal. However, communicating in the right way is one of the most important aspects of building a good relationship – especially during challenging times. Avoid any direct selling and make sure any communication you send out is empathetic and addresses the situation. Focus on what you’re doing to help, such as repayment holidays and support for vulnerable or key worker customers.

Personalising your messages during this time will certainly help too, as now more than ever customers want to feel like you’re looking after their individual needs. Customers are also likely to be distracted by the situation, so now might also be a good time to try some alternative methods of communication, such as video, to help you cut through the noise.

It’s important to recognise too, that while acceptance of contactless selling will inevitably grow, you’ll still be dealing with people. Relationship building will still be a critical part of the sales process as a result.

4 out of 5 people buy from the first sales person they come into contact with. This is unlikely to change as a result of the pandemic, but the way you get in touch with them may very well do. Using methods such as video to introduce yourself and put a face to a name, will maintain that feeling of human-contact. Contactless does not have to mean impersonal – it can be highly personalised with a tool like video.

Plan forward, don’t look back

In these uncertain times, the one thing that is certain is that things will continue to change. Although we’re all hoping that some normality returns soon, it’s important that we plan for the future, rather than looking back.

Although that future may be difficult to predict right now, there are some signs of hope. Car sales have already begun to rise in China, and eBay have reported significant volumes of vehicle searches on their platform.

What this all points to is that things will undoubtedly improve, and the industry will rebound – as it has always done – and following these steps will ensure you’re perfectly prepared to hit the ground running when we return to the “new normal”.

Please don’t forget, we’re all in this together and we’re here to help. Our Customer Support team is available on 01189 977740 or via email at help@citnow.com from 9am to 5.30pm Monday to Friday (UK time). We’ve also recently released our How2CitNOW playlist on YouTube –  where you’ll find further tips and advice for making exceptional CitNOW videos.