How are dealerships adapting?
Buying a new or used vehicle usually involves walking into a dealership, going for a test drive and, all being well, sitting down to cut a deal. This car buying formula has been in place for decades despite a growing number of people moving towards some level of online car shopping. From a Nissan Sentra to a Ford F-150 to even a Ferrari, the way we buy cars hasn't changed much in years. However, the coronavirus pandemic has all but shut down most car dealerships, aside from their service departments.
Selling cars in the traditional sense is simply not possible right now and no one knows when social distancing restrictions will be lifted. As a result, dealerships are going to have to finally enter the 21st century in order to survive during these difficult times.
The Detroit Free Press spoke to a few large dealership groups and they all acknowledged their typical business model has to change fast. "This is going to fundamentally change how people view buying a car," said Rhett Ricart, CEO of Ricart Automotive Group in Columbus, Ohio, who also serves as chairman of the National Auto Dealers Association. "By the end of this year, you're going to see 80%-90% of US new car dealers with full e-commerce capability in their shops."
E-commerce service will also allow customers to do nearly everything online, with the exceptions of a test drive and, perhaps, the final signature confirming the sale, though there's already technology allowing for that task to be done remotely. Ricart added that online sales at its dealerships have doubled in the past six weeks. Other dealerships are experiencing the same and are now adjusting accordingly.
"This pandemic is going to create some permanent changes," another Detroit area dealership owner said.
Although some laws will have to change allowing for customers to sign online instead of in-person, dealership owners are confident the government is willing to work with them here, especially given the current circumstances.
For now, dealerships are continuing to find ways to improve their online operations to schedule test drives as they continue to adjust to the new norm. New online sales platforms will also begin to appear shortly and software like Zoom is being utilized by dealerships for live walkarounds. Buying cars online will also help customers save time as surveys have indicated this is a major factor for people.
Covid-19 is certainly causing its fair share of problems but there are some silver linings. Accelerating car sales transactions and the convenience of shopping from the comfort of home are chief amongst them.