Auto dealerships must evolve with technology to meet the changing expectations of consumers during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a Google and YouTube auto expert.
Concierge, “white glove” experiences of video walkarounds, delivery and pickup of vehicles and customized tech options for consumers are not going away when everyone can finally leave their homes safely, said Lissette Gole, the head of industry for Google’s Automotive Retail division, who shared her business strategies during the June 26th Digital Air Strike hosted webinar.
“Dealers need to be utilizing digital retail solutions to save time and improve the customer experience,” said Gole, who has over 15 years of experience in the automotive industry and is amazed at how fast many dealers have changed their tactics. “It’s not business as usual. Things have changed.”
Google signals give insight into how people’s needs and behaviors evolve. Here are four accelerated auto trends Google is seeing:
- People are finding comfort in car ownership. Many Americans are now rethinking vehicle ownership. There are 15.7 million people aged 25-54 who do not own a personal vehicle in the U.S., and 20% of these people are now considering buying a vehicle, according to Cars.com.
“This means that over 3 million people are now looking to purchase a vehicle,” Gole said. “These are new customers out there in the market shopping right now. This is great news for the auto industry!”
- People expect to find a deal. Search interest for vehicle deals is at a level comparable to the top year-end sales events and are lasting several weeks. Google Trends shows a 31% search increase in “best car deals,” which is above the baseline for 11 straight weeks. “Truck deals” are seeing a 39% search increase, which is also above the baseline for the same 11 straight weeks.
“We’ve seen a spike of interest from March to June that is similar to spikes typically seen at the end of the year,” Gole said. “There has been a surge in search above baseline for the past 11 weeks. One major contributor is incentives OEMs have placed. These deals have been so significant.”
- People want the dealer experience closer to home. Auto shoppers are using online videos, such as digital test drives to fill the void of closed dealership lots. There has been a 27% year-over-year growth in automotive watch time on YouTube during March to June 2020, according to YouTube internal data. YouTube is the No. 1 destination for auto purchasers to experience vehicles with video, Gole said.
“Test drives and walkaround videos were the top things shoppers looked for when looking for videos,” she said. “In March, we saw 40% more views in these car videos than the previous year. People are still shopping for vehicles. They’re really doing it by experiencing the videos on YouTube.”
- People want online buying and at-home delivery. Current auto shoppers are willing to use and purchase a vehicle through digital touchpoints. For example, 55% of current auto shoppers view digital experiences and interactions as good alternatives to visiting a dealership. Meanwhile, 57% of these current auto shoppers said they would purchase a vehicle using an online option, if it was available.
“Many dealers have shifted to digital sales. This has really been seen to be necessary,” Gole said. “This directly correlates with COVID-19, but back in 2018 this was a desire for customers. Today they can with most dealerships right now.”
So now that the pandemic has shown us that people want to research, shop, and buy their vehicles online, how can dealers meet those evolving customer expectations around the auto-shopping experience?
“Even when a shopper is ready to buy, the purchase process is complex,” Gole said.
Dealers have multiple touchpoints to work with auto shoppers online. Here are the three identified touchpoints from Google:
- Find my car. Shoppers are identifying relevant inventory and offers. From April to May 2020, Google saw a 28% increase in searches around “Am I getting a deal?” Consumer Google searches around deals continue to grow, with searches also including, “Where do I buy?”, “Can I afford it?”, and “Is it right for me?” Dealers need to be highlighting specific inventory and special offers or incentives online as consumers do their research online, Gole said.
“Reach buyers wherever they are,” she said. “The goal here is to really drive more store visits and more in-store sales (if your dealership is open). In-market buyers want to know about in-stock inventory now more than ever.”
- Kick the tires. Auto shoppers want at-home test drives and dealer visit alternatives. Video plays a strong role in this, and shoppers welcome the online research experience. 45% of auto intenders in the U.S. chose at-home test drives as the most popular alternative to dealership visits. With 57% of these possible auto buyers welcoming an online vehicle purchase option. Online configurators rank high, according to Google survey data. These auto shoppers confirm that the wide variety of in-depth videos from OEMs, dealers and influencers resonated with them, Gole said.
“We know they are very active in video reviews and they spend a long time looking at these videos,” said Gole, adding that videos can be as short as 15 seconds or as long as 30 minutes to an hour, as long as the information is informative and delivers value.
“Dealers need to master their at-home test drives, along with promoting their virtual-buying capabilities and making sure they are available to answer questions,” she said. “Scream at them from the rooftops so they know how to work with you, especially in this new world of concierge service. We don’t foresee this going away.”
Bring the showroom to shoppers with online video. The video doesn’t have to be the highest quality and production, customers just want to see their car, Gole said.
“Vehicle walkarounds are great,” she said. “You can also use video conferencing technology. Bringing that sight, sound and motion helps bring customers to your dealership. The trend in consumers is they’re loving it!”
- Let’s make a deal. The goal is to reduce friction in the transaction process. The top auto shopper frustrations/pain points with the purchase process include filling out paperwork and contracts for purchasing or leasing a vehicle, negotiating a purchase or lease price and finding the best deal or price, according to Cox Automotive.
“The average time spent at the dealership in the U.S. stands at nearly three hours and has remained virtually unchanged over the last few years,” Gole said. “Digital retailing saves time and improves customer experience. You’re putting the power of the purchase directly in your customer’s hands. Some still want to talk to an associate, while others want to do as much as possible online.”
Auto vendors and partners know that making this pivot to online retailing is not an overnight, easy process. There are many tech solutions needed and available to help dealers so they’re not making these changes themselves.
Digital Air Strike’s virtual retailing solutions, trainings and free face coverings help dealers sell and service safely. Virtual retailing allows customers to research, shop and buy from home using video, AI, and automation plus “white glove” services to survive, thrive and sell during the COVID-19 pandemic. Find out more here.