In recent conversations I've had with dealership leaders, several noted they were on track early this year to have strong sales before the coronavirus threw them off course.
In place of spring sales promotions, many dealerships quickly changed their messaging to reassure customers that they still were able to do business — however, whenever and wherever customers wanted.
That's not to say that sales messages disappeared entirely. Automakers tried to spark demand by offering generous incentives — in some cases, 0 percent financing. It makes sense that promoting how a customer could safely interact with a dealership to take advantage of those offers would follow.
I wrote this week about how some retailers are beginning to restart some of the advertising they paused early in the pandemic, when rapidly spreading COVID-19 cases and state restrictions on physical vehicle sales created financial uncertainty.
Some stores increasingly will sprinkle in promotional messages in the weeks and months ahead, dealership managers told me. But several said that's likely to be in conjunction with the messaging that proliferated around safety, sanitization and shopper choice.
"It went away from our typical incentive-based, 'F-150s as low as $21,000; come see us,' " Bobby Sight, operations director at Rob Sight Ford in Kansas City, Mo., told me.
Instead, he said, the dealership highlighted the steps it was taking to keep the in-store experience safe. How customers can work a digital deal. How the dealership will pick up a customer's vehicle.
"It will go back towards the sales incentives, pricing, buying experience," Sight added, "but I'll still gear [messaging] towards having a safe environment."
Some advertising vendors I talked to said messages of cleanliness, home delivery, digital deals and contactless service are now foundational. Since many of these services are here to stay, it's likely dealerships will promote any future sales events with those options in mind.