Franchised car dealers emerged as the automotive retail sector’s most trusted operators as 95% of car buyers told What Car? they were comfortable with the prospect of visiting showrooms when COVID-19 ‘Lockdown 3’ is lifted.
While the vast majority of 2,823 survey respondents said they would be ready to step into the showroom environment, the same proportion said that they were confident that operators could run their premises in a COVID-safe way – up from 89% in October 2020.
And franchised retailers look to be starting the year with a head-start in terms of consumer confidence, with 92% of in-market buyers stating that franchised and branded retailers will take the most precautions to ensure their health during the current crisis.
National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA) chief executive, Sue Robinson, welcomed the news. She said: “It is extremely encouraging that the vast majority of car buyers feel comfortable about visiting a showroom when the lockdown ends; the fact that most respondents are confident that dealerships can be run in a COVID-safe way pays testament to the efforts dealers have been making over the past months to follow COVID-secure guidelines and protect the health of staff and customers.
She added: “Our members have repeatedly implemented the required, robust safety precautions and it is positive that consumers recognise their efforts.
“Although we are disappointed that showrooms in England will need to remain shut during the March plate-change, dealers will continue to offer click and collect services while they look forward to safely welcoming customers back as soon as it is allowed.”
While car retailers in England yesterday told AM that they were “disappointed” that their showrooms would not be opening sooner than April 12, many expressed the hope that the cautious approach announced by Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Monday would ensure that ‘Lockdown 3’ is the nation’s last.
The Scottish Government yesterday confirmed that car buyers North of the border are now able to complete their purchase within the showroom environment as part of a scheduled visit.
Commenting on the results of the recent What Car? survey Rachael Prasher, the consumer publication’s managing director, said: “With 95% of in-market buyers ready to step back into showrooms, our research shows the high level of confidence the public has in retailers being able to operate safely.
“The research also shows how significant retailers are to buyers, despite the various online platforms now available to them.
“It is disappointing for the industry that customers will have to stay away from showrooms for the next few months – especially as March is such a significant month in the year for new car sales – but the sector has already shown that it can meet strict health and safety guidelines and it will be ready to do so again, once the restrictions ease.”
Earlier this month car buying research website Parkers surveyed its audience to gauge appetite or car dealership re-openings on behalf of AM.
It came as car retailers expressed their fear that a failure to reopen showrooms in time to embrace Q1's key March number plate change period would harm the sector and the wider UK economy.
Parkers found that the loss of a test drive offering could be hampering sales during lockdown, with 64% of respondents stating that they would not buy a car without one.
And while only half (47%) of respondents agreed that it would be “fine for car showrooms to be open if they take precautions”, only 15% agreed with the statement “I would not feel safe inside a dealership at the moment”.
Parkers editor, Keith Adams, told AM: “There is clearly some consumer uncertainty over being in showrooms at the moment, but with almost half of car buyers saying that it's OK for them to be open, there's a great deal of pressure on dealerships to open up at the earliest opportunity.
“The fact that so many people also need a test drive before making the decision to purchase means that the longer they stay closed, the more damage is being done to the industry through lost sales.
“I certainly back the NFDA and SMMT's call to open up showrooms at the earliest opportunity. Afterall, a car dealership must be the easiest business in which to maintain social distancing.”