Picture the dotted line that separates lanes on many roads. Buying and selling cars online was like that: you could sort of buy a car online, but there were gaps in the process.
Under pressure from consumers and dealers alike, online car retailing is changing, big time. The inevitable outcome will be a seamless -- dare I say hassle-free -- process where buyers can complete the transaction, and dealers can close the sale-- all online.
It's nothing short of a complete retailing sea change.
Think about an auto marketing solution that provides:
- full disclosure and upfront pricing
- enhanced search technology that finds the exact car a consumer wants in a dealer's inventory
- optimum customer service that offers unbiased information on a brand
- sophisticated marketing software that offers dealers the best bang for their buck: fees based on sales, not leads.
Of course, there's already plenty of easy online access to data and images for every make and model. The online selling process is in full-swing. It's the online closing of the deal that so far has proved elusive-- mostly because the industry and the technology just haven't been ready for that. Yet.
Today, things are starting to fall into place. Ambitious technology innovators are assembling the pieces; consumer loyalty to affinity buying groups is on the rise (providing volume in terms of buying power) and progressive dealers are starting to provide upfront pricing and access to their inventory data. All of these elements are aligning to make the complete online transaction possible within the next year.
But, what to do in the meantime? Recognize that the internet has triggered a fundamental shift in how consumers shop for a new car, and how dealers acquire customers.
Dealers: expand your online capabilities
Marketing technology companies are providing dealers with breakthrough software that helps them generate sales, not just leads. Here are a few steps dealers should take to move the process along:
- Work with technology and marketing experts to implement web-based solutions and automate the sales and administration process. Automation is really about reducing costs. The closer that you, as a dealer, can get a customer to an actual purchase the better. Dealerships spend time and energy closing and administering a sale when, in reality, many buyers will opt for a streamlined process that saves the dealership time and money. All dealers should embrace cost saving measures and sales process automation in whatever form.
- Offer consumers access to your inventory-tracking dealer management software, so customers can find the exact car they want in your inventory. This will deliver consumers who are further along in the buying process-- increasing the chances of a sale, while using fewer resources.
- Give consumers an upfront price, and guarantee it with a printable "certificate" that the buyer can bring to the dealership. Customers get the price they expect, and dealers waste less time with the traditional back-and-forth negotiations.
Why implement these changes? Because improved technology and efficiency results in a reduced fee-per-sale-- a win/win scenario for all parties.
Marketers: give consumers a more relevant experience
So far, despite the best efforts of some innovative online companies, shopping for a car online has been a piecemeal affair: in the end, a consumer still has to finalize price and options at a showroom. But, for many consumers, the whole idea of shopping online is to avoid the showroom.
That's not to say avoid the dealers. There's a big difference.
Dealers need to recognize that they can offer up their inventory for consumers who want a full online transaction-- without risk of being left out.
The big leap in the consumer experience will involve moving out of lead generation mode into a process that actually drives buyers closer to the sale. Many auto marketing websites today merely focus on lead generation and advertising-- so all they really do is try to get consumers to click as many times as possible and view more ads. This may generate lots of revenue for the website, but it is not efficient for either the buyer or the seller.
The technology exists to enable consumers to search for and configure the exact vehicle they want to buy-- down to the color and available options. And, as I've mentioned, the complete online purchase is coming soon. But until that day, here's what marketers can offer consumers now:
- Detailed configuration information for every make and model.
- A guaranteed upfront price, with no hidden fees.
- The ability to locate specific vehicles in dealers' inventories.
- The ability to view all of the transaction documents online, so there are no surprises at the dealership.
These innovations in internet marketing capabilities move us closer to a start-to-finish online solution for dealers, who recognize that long-term survival -- and even prosperity -- are impossible without the internet. In turn, internet success is virtually impossible without the help of technology and online marketing experts.
The industry is forging new roads. And those dotted lines are disappearing faster than you can say, "I'll upgrade to the leather seats."
The ability and expertise to capitalize on in-depth understanding of what it takes to achieve optimal car buying -- for both consumers and dealers -- will set the stage to maximize the value of marketing dollars online to generate sales.
In this day and age, we expect nothing less.