Thriving Dealerships Are Embracing Digital

Automotive News presented The Thriving Dealership: Now and for the Future alongside exclusive sponsor Cox Automotive on August 18th, 2021. This online event discussed tactics and changes many dealerships made over the last year and a half to not only survive but thrive.

Isabelle Helms, Vice President of Research and Market Intelligence at Cox Automotive, presented the top trends from dealerships that were able to thrive during the COVID -19 pandemic and supply shortages.

Helms differentiated successful and profitable dealers, the thrivers, and the static dealers who were trailing behind.

The four key efforts Helms noted the thrivers taking:

  • Embracing digital consumer experiences
  • Investing in fixed-ops improvements
  • Maximizing the usage of data
  • Investing in staff

Helms noted that three out of four dealers embraced digital retailing by the end of 2020, but many static dealers plan on returning to a less digital-focused model after the pandemic. The thrivers believe that there will be long-term benefits from investing in digital. This change of mindset allowed thrivers to make improvements that resonated with customers. 

One significant change was creating an online presence that was distinct from their website. On-site inventory photo and video booths supported these online dealerships by giving potential buyers a better impression of the cars available. Along with this, sales representatives had to develop a willingness to connect over video through apps like Zoom or FaceTime to give customers an experience akin to in-store shopping.

Not only did dealers adopt video calls, but they also added text and chat options that enabled customers to contact the dealers in a way they found most comfortable. And when a salesperson was not available to text or call, the virtual assistant technology assisted customers with easy questions.

After Helm’s presentation, the event moved on to a panel with Chase Abbott or Dealer Software Solutions, Liza Borches of Carter Myers Automotive, Kevin Frye of Jeff Wyler Automotive Family, Joe Negri of Mike Maroone Automotive, and Jeffrey Ramsey of Jones Junction Auto Group. The discussion focused on best practices the panelists had come across over the past few months.

Fyre emphasized how important he found digital retailing to be for modern-day customers. In the discussion on how online storefronts have changed to fit customers, Negri observed that chat made it possible to cut down on emails and form filling for potential customers. The sales team could get the needed information over the conversation with the customer. Ramsey also added his positive experience with allowing on-site test drives to be scheduled online. The appointment allowed his sales team to reach out and build a relationship with customers.

Borches advised dealers to expect the focus on digital to stick around. She anticipates that customers won’t be willing to give up dealerships’ new online experiences after utilizing them over the pandemic. Abbott noted that a return to normal is not likely to come quickly, saying, “There is no ‘new normal’ it’s all new.”

The speakers all shared many additional tips on how to make your dealership thrive. To watch the whole event on-demand, sign up on the Automotive News site.