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The role of the dealership in the digital age

You don’t need us to tell you that technology has changed the game for the automotive industry – but we can help you play by the new rules. One of the first steps in adapting to the changing market, is recognising the changing role of the dealership.

As technology has advanced, the customer’s buying journey has evolved. Sure, the stages of the buying process remain the same (discovery, consideration, decision and retention), but the way customers navigate them is now drastically different.

Different, because the process has been digitised.

The internet provides a viable alternative to the traditional brick-and-mortar shopping experience – saving buyers time, money and effort. And with 32% of buyers comfortable with buying their next vehicle entirely online, it’s an alternative many are clearly happy to pursue.

So where does this leave the physical dealership? Is there still a place for showrooms and sales centres in the digital age?

Our research shows the answer is a resounding yes. But where the dealership was once the sole source of information for car buyers, it now acts as an extension of the customers’ digital journey…

How showrooms are becoming experience centres

Through the likes of automotive video, your customers can now get closer to your cars than ever, without setting foot in the showroom. Nevertheless, only the showroom can provide the full hands-on-the-wheel experience.

Indeed, our recent research shows that far from being replaced by digital, the physical dealership is being aided by it – with over half (55%) of car buyers making dealership visits a priority for their next purchase.

For most, these visits will be at an advanced stage in the buying process – with all the ‘discovery’ work done at home.

Showrooms as experience centres

It means many customers will arrive on the forecourt already in possession of the facts. What they need is the feel. The chance to appreciate the quality of that leather trim, check the true-light colour of the paint work, and take that all-important test drive.

It also means that the in-store customer experience now has to live up to its digital billing, every bit as slick and smart as the videos and marketing materials that have led to the visit.

Enhancing the in-store experience

While huge technological advances have been made outside of the dealership, the customer experience inside the dealership hasn’t necessarily moved at the same speed.

The in-store sales process, for instance, often remains paper-based and intimidating – at odds with the simple, streamlined purchases today’s customers are used to.

Recognising that one in ten visitors to your showroom is ready to buy on the day, significant focus should be placed on streamlining the sales experience as much as possible.

Everything in store should be geared towards maintaining and heightening the customer’s excitement and anticipation of getting their new keys – and eliminating anything that might dampen that spirit.

Why the personal touch is still important

Interestingly, while research shows many buyers happy to complete car purchases entirely online, it also shows a rise in the perceived value of face-to-face contact.

All age groups surveyed in our own research say they want more face-to-face contact with dealers, and while this can be achieved remotely through personalised video content, it suggests the physical dealership isn’t going anywhere just yet.

The personal touch with CitNOW Video

Indeed, the crossover of the digital and physical worlds can be used to great effect here. By using personalised video in your marketing efforts, you can build up trust between sales executive and buyer that makes a showroom visit much more appealing to the customer.

After all, wouldn’t everyone be happier buying a car from somebody they already know?

In summary…

While the showroom is no longer the be-all and end-all of car sales, it remains a critical (and increasingly final) part of the customers’ buying journey.

Indeed, it seems highly unlikely that car sales will ever join the list of industries forced exclusively online, with many buyers still valuing the opportunity to touch, feel and test-drive before committing to a purchase.

In order to stay competitive, dealerships must move with the times. Not just resting on the laurels of great digital content, including video and 360 views – but creating experiential spaces that invite buyers to get hands on, along with streamlining the sales process to meet modern expectations.

Your ability to adapt is key to keeping your dealership in the driver’s seat.

This blog is the first part of four in our “Understanding the Modern Day Buying Journey” series. To learn more download the full white paper here.

The guide includes exclusive research into the needs of the modern day buyer – helping you meet their expectations, and ultimately increase sales.


To read the next blog in this series, follow this link.