Creating an omnichannel shopping experience isn't just a way to win over car buyers in the digital retailing age. It also can help dealerships buffer against a recession.
So says Boston Consulting Group, which advises automotive clients. In a recent paper, BCG highlighted several trends transforming automotive retail, from savvier customers to disrupters such as online used-vehicle retailer Carvana, and noted the potential for "a perfect storm" when those developments collide with the next economic downturn.
Many of BCG's suggestions focus on creating efficiency at the bottom line — running leaner, managing inventory and expenses, pursuing mergers and acquisitions. But BCG also noted that investing in omnichannel technology to create a smooth transition between shopping online and in store will not only make the buying experience better, it also could reduce staffing and transaction time as part of a downturn plan.
Omnichannel capabilities — creating a seamless buying experience, whether the consumer is shopping from a computer, mobile device or in the dealership — also could create stronger consumer affinity for the brand, according to the group.
That in part explains why both automakers and dealers are focusing on the technology in a big way, said Lara Koslow, managing director at BCG and global leader of the company's Center for Customer Insight.
"It's time-saving to the consumer when they walk through the door," Koslow said.
Koslow and Martha Blue, senior adviser at BCG, spoke with Automotive News Staff Reporter Lindsay VanHulle about the transformation dealerships are making. Here are edited excerpts.
On why dealers are focused on creating an omnichannel buying experience:
Koslow: The customer doesn't understand why, when they walk into a dealership, they're starting over. Typically, when a customer walks into a dealership, it's not omnichannel: "I put in all my preferences online, I told you all these great things about me, and oftentimes, I meet some new salesperson, and they can't pull that up, and they know nothing [and I am frustrated]."
How can you leverage that online piece of the experience to shorten that time in the dealership to make them feel better about the whole experience? Because that's what they're looking for.
On how dealerships can provide a seamless experience:
Blue: Ideally, somebody walks in and automatically the information can be pulled up on the [customer relationship management program] and then you automatically know. Let's say a consumer submitted a lead online. You'd automatically be able to pull up what vehicle they submitted a lead on and know whether that vehicle is available.
On the technology dealerships will need:
Blue: They have a lot of the tools already at their fingertips. It's just a question of using them, and also of bridging the gap. If that information then isn't transferred into the CRM and then to that person who's on the sales floor who ideally has an iPad and has access to all that information, then you've lost the ability to have that seamless transition.
On integration with the rest of the sales process:
Blue: Most dealers have had a sales process where one salesperson owns that customer, and that's not always the best experience for the customer. And so it's not only being seamless from online to offline, but it's also dealerships learning to be more fluid so that their commission structures can adjust to servicing the needs of the consumer and not being focused on the one salesperson to the one consumer.