When talking to dealers and digital retailing providers over the past few months, I've asked about the innovations ahead for selling vehicles online.
Developing processes to create a seamless experience whether the customer is buying online, in-store or a combination of the two — a concept known as omnichannel retailing — is one focus. Using digital retailing software that becomes more transactional vs. simply generating leads is another.
Underlying both of those ideas is transparency.
A survey released in February of about 1,700 consumers by the Marchex Institute, the research division of call and text analytics provider Marchex, and automotive market research company Root & Associates found that trust tied with a competitive price as the most important factors in their choice of a dealership. One way trust is built is if sales employees can answer customers' questions early in the process, given the time buyers spend researching before contacting a dealership, the study's authors noted.
Andy Hinrichs, CEO of auto e-commerce startup Digital Motors, which launched last year, told me a dealership can achieve "the three T's" — transparency, which creates trust, which saves time — only if the customer experience is easy and consistent.
Creating that experience can't be dictated from the top, he added, but must start from the customer's perspective and work backward.
"It doesn't really matter in what context you see the car. You always get the same deal regardless of what your path to the vehicle is. And in our mind, that's very important," Hinrichs said. "The industry has this reputation of wheeling and dealing and showing different prices to different people, and we feel that's not conducive for the dealer."