No one can accurately predict the full impact COVID-19 will ultimately have on our industry. And no one knows how long it will take us to achieve a full recovery in the post-quarantine economy.
In past recessions, forecasters and economists have had an easier time predicting market stabilization and growth, but the key benchmarks and indicators of this crisis are vastly different.
What we do know is that we seem to be emerging from the worst financial effects of the pandemic. Travel is on the rise, mortgage applications are growing, and unemployment filings have declined.
We are not out of the woods yet, and we likely won’t be for months, or years, to come. But we have enough information now to start thinking about how we can improve operations and processes to adapt to doing business in a post-quarantine world.
Lessons Learned in the Wake of the Pandemic
Since early March, it has become clear that the automotive industry is particularly vulnerable to global crises like pandemics.
People who have been forced out of their jobs are much less inclined and able to make big ticket purchases. And driving, in general, is less of a necessity for millions of Americans when sheltering in place.
Fleet sales, driven by major car rental companies, also plunge as business and personal travel comes to a halt.
Shifting Into Gear for Post-Quarantine Operations
Adjusting to the new normal will require a drastic overhaul of the traditional dealership sales model. We’ve learned some valuable lessons over these past few months from dealers who have successfully pivoted their processes to resume operations while mitigating COVID-19 risks.
It’s safe to say most of these changes have been a long time coming. In recent years, many studies have shown that people want an easier and more convenient car buying experience. In short, we believe the pandemic has changed our industry in positive ways.
Here are a few ways you can improve operations at your dealership to get ahead in the post-quarantine marketplace.
The New Dealership Model - Bricks and Clicks
The dealership will no longer be the transactional hub of the car buying process, where customers have their trade-ins appraised, sign paperwork, conduct test drives, or take final delivery.
Instead, dealerships will be expected to provide virtual walkarounds, live online trade appraisals, at-home test drives, and final home deliveries. Any required dealership visits will be largely expedited.
In our opinion, this will be the preferred model among a majority of consumers, regardless of whether or not touchless transactions are mandated.
Provide Product Specialists to Accommodate Savvy Shoppers
In the post-quarantine marketplace, many traditional sales professionals will serve as product specialists. Specialists allow a dealership to communicate effectively across all channels and build deeper relationships by guiding customers through every step of the process to the right vehicle and the right deal.
Negotiators will be replaced by educators who provide an exceptional level of service at multiple touchpoints, leading up to and including home delivery. Dedicated specialists also allow a dealership to remain accessible and helpful after the purchase is complete.
Flexibility Will Be a Dealer’s Primary Competitive Advantage
As a fully digital car buying experience becomes the baseline expectation among consumers, dealers will need to offer a more flexible process to remain competitive. Things like subscription services, short-term leases, and pay-per-use options are great alternatives.
Younger buyers who previously placed a lower value on vehicle ownership will now prefer a private vehicle to a public one for safety reasons.
Dealers will need to be even more flexible in the event of a COVID-19 resurgence, or the emergence of other new pandemics. Being quick to implement updated health and safety protocols, implementing marketing campaigns that target buyers with important safety messaging, and reaching out to younger buyers on social media with attractive options like short-term subsidized leases are smart tactics to stay ahead.
Continually Improve Operations to Stay Ahead
Unfortunately, it took the COVID-19 pandemic and related safety restrictions to bring about these significant changes in our industry.
Fortunately, these changes are positive ones that will build deeper engagement and give consumers a more personalized and flexible car buying experience - building trust and loyalty with dealers who are able to adapt to the post-quarantine marketplace.