How the auto sales industry is transforming into digital dealerships
Bringing the car-buying experience into the 21st century.
Of all the digital transformations that have occurred in sales in the first two decades of the 21st century, the one purchasing experience with roots still deep in the 20th century is the car-buying process.
Then COVID hit.
Operations went from finance, sales and service transactions handled in person, to layoffs and streamlined processes. While some in the industry had already laid digital foundations, many were not prepared to adopt technology platforms as part of daily operations.
“We have had a lot of technology available to dealerships but most preferred offering the traditional buying experience,” said Joe Chura, co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Dealer Inspire, the digital marketing and consumer experience platform of Cars.com. “There have been technology solutions and resources on the sideline and this moment is bringing them off the shelf.”
Acquired by Cars.com in early 2018, the Dealer Inspire platform has had to think to fast to adjust to the unprecedented needs of car dealers, resulting in1,000 unique videos produced for car dealers, as well as virtual appointments, vehicle visits, financing and auto technology.
They immediately moved to help dealers enhance the digital customer experience through:
- Better website experience;
- Improvements in digital retailing and product messaging; and
- The use of interactive consumer experiences.
Established in 2013, Dealers Inspire already offered a built-in messaging platform and a video chat platform by 2015.
“To be honest it was not getting a lot of use, and now our daily focus is helping dealers with this rapid transformation,” said Chura. “Our mission from day one is to future-proof car dealerships because we knew one day they would have to adapt.”
Increased demand for video
Since the onset of COVID restrictions in March, the video platform has gone from a communication ‘vehicle’ that rarely left the garage to a high-mileage platform that is directly impacting the bottom line of virtually every car dealership in the United States.
“We had to dust off code to some rarely used technology for the online shopping experience, and at the same time fulfill an unprecedented need and demand for the video platform to showcase vehicles and communicate with prospective buyers,” said Chura. “We asked how we could help our dealers with communications, collateral material and marketing. By far the biggest demand came from use of video platforms. We had to step up in a big way and we did,” said Chura.
Chatting for the Future
Now that car dealers can do a lot more for a lot less, with fewer staff and more technology, tools like chatbots are playing an even more significant role.
Instead of just answering introductory questions like most chatbots, the auto industry is now empowering chatbots to answer secondary and tertiary questions with information before transferring a prospective customer to a customer service representative.
What secondary and tertiary questions are chatbots answering?
- Trade-in worth for vehicles;
- Qualification for discounts (i.e. veterans and first responders); and
- Rebate inquiries.
The chatbots’ answers are leading to revenue, and despite current conditions, many car dealerships across the country have experienced record-breaking sales months because of the enclosed environment a car provides in a world where road trips are going to be more common than airline travel for the foreseeable future.
“There is a divide where some dealers are embracing and adopting technology solutions and some still are not,” said Chura. “I do not think there is a defined date but now is the time to connect all the dots for technology solutions from consumer engagement with chatbots to dealership marketing and operations. The future is now for the industry and there is no way to avoid it.”