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Dealers already have the tools for COVID-19 lockdown car sales, opinion

Martin Hill, chief executive, Dealerweb

Much of the car retail conversation through the COVID-19 coronavirus lockdown period has focused on online selling.

Following confirmation from the government that vehicles can be delivered, dealers of all sizes are now planning on how to adapt.

The industry is far more prepared for remote selling than it believes as dealers have moved in this direction for years. The current crisis will undoubtedly accelerate a trend that is decades in the making.

Google argues that 95% of car purchases begin online. From our data, at Dealerweb, we see the time from enquiry to sale shortening as buyers complete the bulk of their research online and arrive at the dealership with a car in mind and target price.

In the traditional sales process, most dealers have a lead management platform that can seamlessly handle walk-in and telephone enquiries and manage them through to sale while meeting all compliance requirements.

With the new normal being based more on digital and telephone interaction it is important to adapt sales processes by utilising electronic document transmission and signature, leaving the handover as the only part of the traditional process remaining and this can currently be done at the customers home.

We expect that over the coming months, as lockdown lifts, that customer handovers will be able to take place at the dealership while strict social distancing rules are observed.

Many dealers may feel they need to default to a purpose-built online transactional platform. While this will undoubtedly do the job, it simply isn’t necessary for the vast majority of dealerships.

Dealers can undoubtedly act now in re-mapping their existing distance selling process to ensure it runs smoothly for the customer and sales teams without the customer having to physically visit the dealer.

Sales teams will require the relevant training and system providers will need to develop the appropriate support features to ensure the experience is as good as it can be for the customer.

It will be important to ensure that all stock is attractively imaged and the vehicle data is correct and to choose a finance partner who is set-up to transact online, and most are, therefore much of the complicated digital infrastructure is covered.

The issue of part exchanges can be handled using smartphones to take pictures of interiors and bodywork. Several guided vehicle appraisal apps also exist for customers to use ensuring the dealer gets the information they need.

Test drives could even be done remotely with dash-mounted cameras using video technology, allowing the salesperson to talk through the vehicle’s performance and features on a short drive and addressing any questions the customer may have asked.

Many dealers will have concerns about compliance with the current FCA regulations however using a cloud-based solution such as Dealerweb’s Showroom platform incorporating e-signatures will allay these fears and ensure the required standards are achieved.

Distance selling regulations, while understanding that they could be seen as onerous by the dealer, a more positive take is to see the regulations as a way to build trust in the process.

Adversity is the mother of invention, and I have faith that the UK’s dealers will adapt to whatever the coming months and years throw at them.

It is important to accept that both dealers and customers are on this journey together.

It is better to be in the market today with an effective distance sales process that works for customers rather than waiting to deploy a new online platform with the potential delay and cost this would involve.

Author: Martin Hill, chief executive, Dealerweb.

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