During the coronavirus pandemic, car buyers are spending more time online than ever before. Even as the use of digital retailing tools has skyrocketed, some customers still want to seal the deal on the showroom floor, dealers say.
Getting them there involves closely following public health officials' guidance to keep shoppers and employees as safe as possible — and then demonstrating those safe practices to customers who are researching stores online.
Key to driving socially distanced foot traffic, some retailers say, is emphasizing COVID-19 safety protocols in customer outreach. And in the digital world, online reviews are the strongest currency.
Spending that currency starts with earning credibility with existing customers.
For instance, 15-store Jeff Wyler Automotive Family in Milford, Ohio, highlighted dealership safety protocols in videos and social media posts to give its stores an edge when customer demand came roaring back in late spring.
"We did really well as a result," said Kevin Frye, the group's marketing director. "A lot of dealers sat on the sidelines and didn't know what to do."
Jeff Wyler Automotive Family employs a "social media head coach" who oversees the group's digital channels. Positive reviews were plucked from those digital platforms and integrated into dealership marketing materials.
"This probably wasn't the most ideal time to buy a car, but we did, and the experience was very satisfying," one five-star review acknowledged. "Jeff Wyler staff were awesome. Practiced social distancing, even the car was cleaned with antimicrobial product before we sat in it."
Another review said: "I was blown away by the care and concern the salespeople and the dealership had for my safety and gettin me in the right car at the right price."
Assuring customers that the dealership showroom would be safe to enter was vital to the dealership group's success. Despite the digital positioning, "the significant majority of car sales were still delivered in the showroom — even during the height of COVID — because our customers still wanted that experience," Frye said.
Concerned customers are more likely to evaluate other people's experiences before heading into a store, and dealers should be prepared.