Our trends study has the answer.
Our 7th Annual Automotive Social Media & Online Trends Study tells us social media and online reviews play a bigger role than ever in automotive sales and service transactions. Customers trust the crowdsourced ratings and reviews of strangers when making major purchasing decisions, and in some cases they prefer them over traditional sources. Car buyers and service clients say they now take advantage of newer channels like Facebook Marketplace when shopping for used vehicles.
But are the masses ready to buy cars online? From Costco?
Big Box Competitors and How We Got Here
We can now answer that question, but, before we do, it is important to take stock of how we got here. By “here,” we mean a place and time in history when Amazon.com has gone from used bookseller-startup to one of the most powerful companies on the planet—one where we can purchase a television and fresh groceries (at the same time) from a mobile phone and receive at least part of our purchase in a few hours. Traditional big-box retailers like Walmart, who spent the first few years of the century denouncing Amazon as a dotcom-era oddity that would never catch fire, have spent recent years throwing incredible time and budget into replicating Amazon’s model.
If the world’s largest retailers are playing catch-up, what does that mean for the automotive sales and service industry, a niche that was never known for its foresight? While business writ large embraced digital marketing long ago, many dealerships are just now wading into tactics like email marketing, audience segmentation and A.I.-powered online service interfaces. Mom-and-pop shops are begrudgingly taking a second look at their unoptimized websites, and a few brave souls have ventured into social media (or hired a Millennial to do it).
As the remaining handful of auto sales and service organizations realize the future arrived a decade back, others are enjoying the fruits of their early movement: well-groomed contact lists, highly trackable online ROI, streamlined online service and quote requests, new and used inventory viewable across several online outlets and the priceless marketing knowledge one gets only through trial and error. These businesses will be especially well positioned to evolve and compete with next-generation competitors, whether those competitors are online behemoths, big box stores or the guy down the street.
The Secret to Their Success
And while local competition will remain fierce, expect the unexpected on a national scale. While few could have predicted Amazon’s deep dive into our daily retail lives, it has become an institution. And once a business builds the tentacles of infrastructure, develops key partnerships and—perhaps most importantly—earns customer trust via online ratings and reviews, it becomes immeasurably easier to expand into other areas. Just as fellow tech disruptor Uber surgically maneuvered into ride hailing and ridesharing by using technology to harness unused vehicles, build a community of drivers and customers, and then pivot to become a decentralized food delivery machine, moneyed players and out-of-the-woodwork successes alike will push further change in the auto sector.
Meet Your Competitors on the Internet Battlefield
While Digital Air Strike and its counterparts have been working hand-in-hand with the auto industry for years, sharing industry-specific online engagement best practices, not everyone got the message. We take on new customers every day, and we love doing the proverbial zero-to-sixty with a dealer’s social media marketing, reputation management and sales and service process automation. We love building a lasting relationship and watching a business grow beyond the basics to realize true customer satisfaction and ROI. But far too many potential clients fail our mystery shops. Some don’t respond to social media reviews. Many dealerships don’t offer accommodations like live or A.I.-based web chat. Too many service shops don’t respond to quote requests in a timely fashion—or at all. Many dealers don’t have a system in place for responding to inquiries after normal business hours.
In a world where I can have a Big Mac delivered in 15 minutes by an Uber bicycle, why would I do business with a dealership like that?
Stunningly, our new trends study shows 62% of sales and service customers would purchase a vehicle online from Costco.
Let that sink in…
What’s more, 60% said they would buy a car from Amazon. Nearly one in two said they’d buy one from Overstock.com.
Don’t Laugh, Yet
Imagine a guy in rural Tennessee adding a Ford F-150 to his shopping cart and clicking “Buy Now”. Why not? Survey after survey shows clients engaging more heavily with social media and review sites and in many cases trusting them more than word of mouth. The digital disruptors of the past 20 years have proven consumers want to purchase when and where they’re ready. They do research and choose the precise product or service they feel is best for them, and they increasingly want it delivered to their doorstep. Again, it isn’t as much infrastructure as trust, and the Amazons of the world have earned it.
In the age of digital reviews, we live or die by trust. We succeed or fail through transparency. Put your inventory online, post your best prices, provide as much relevant data as possible, engage potential buyers on social media and build trust by answering their questions honestly, 24 hours a day, via online live chat or A.I. chat. Track and attribute leads to their proper sources and follow up immediately when possible. By not letting leads slip through the cracks, you’ll convert more, earn more positive reviews and be thought of as a dealer or service center that works with and advocates for its customers.
Imitate What Works to Build a Stronger Future
Whether you choose to address your digital gaps alone or through a pro-level service, be sure to do it right and be sure to do it soon. You don’t need to be an Amazon or a Walmart, but when it comes to servicing clients and prospects online, it might not hurt to behave like one. To prepare you for whatever the future brings.