Is Your Local Dealership Prepared for a New Era of Car Buying?

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Buying a car is one of the largest financial decisions most consumers will make in their lifetime. And it used to be car shopping wasn’t so easy. Years ago, auto shoppers would spend weeks or even months visiting multiple dealerships, relying on salesmen and managers to provide the guidance they needed to make their purchase decision.

Today, things have changed. With unlimited access to online information about every make and model out there, auto shoppers don’t even need to leave their living room to research their options.

Netsertive surveyed 500 recent car buyers across the U.S. and found that auto shoppers aren’t showing up to the lot until the very last moment in their path to purchase. With this finding, it’s more important now than ever for dealers and OEMs to work together to “sell” buyers through online engagements before they even step foot on the lot.

Car Buyers Are Visiting Less Dealerships
The survey found that 67 percent of automotive shoppers only visited one to two dealerships before making a purchase.  Contrary to what’s been done in the past, shoppers are now coming to the dealership after having heavily explored their options through online channels.

With so much research happening online before the physical visit, dealers have a huge opportunity to capture potential buyers in the midst of their research and drive them to their dealership. While it’s common for shoppers to decide on the car they want to purchase early on in their research process, the survey found that most (45 percent) still need to be convinced where to buy it. The bottom line is that if you aren’t capturing shopper’s attention before they’re ready to visit the dealership, you’ve likely lost them to your competition.

Consumer Reviews & Dealer Websites Help Auto Shoppers Make Decisions
The research also suggests that while shoppers are using various digital channels to do their research, the most popular is online consumer reviews (46 percent). Buyers are putting a lot of trust in past customer experiences so it’s incredibly important for dealers to cultivate a strong review network.  Customers will be skeptical if reviews are outdated or inconsistent. Make sure your dealership is acknowledging complaints in a timely manner and consistently engaging with customers in a conversational tone.

Local dealer websites were the second most popular research avenue for car shoppers (44 percent). Shoppers want clear information on the dealership’s brands, prices and availability. Successful dealers are constantly monitoring their website with tools like Google Analytics, to determine what’s resonating with visitors and how things can be optimized for stronger conversion rates.

Continental Mazda faced a competitive landscape in in Anchorage, Alaska – or as they call it, “truck country.” In 2014, the top three models sold in Anchorage were Ford, Chevrolet, and Ram trucks. Continental Mazda knew that they needed to improve their digital presence in order to grow their business and effectively target their local market. The dealership has seen a significant uptick in website traffic leads since implementing a digital marketing solution. They’ve been able to reach customers during their research journey and effectively convert these online engagements into sales, service calls and test drives.

Mobile Is King
The survey found that 48 percent of buyers are doing their automotive research on a mobile device. Chances are, if a mobile shopper visits your site and it’s not easy to navigate on their screen, they’ll move on. Recent research from Facebook revealed that about two in five automotive shoppers booked a test drive from a mobile device. As such, having a mobile-optimized website is extremely important for converting “on-the-go” customers.

The automotive space is extremely competitive and with automotive sales down 13.2 percent year over year through June 30th according to Autodata, the competition could not be fiercer. In order to remain afloat in today’s challenging sales environment, auto marketers need to rethink how they get high-intent buyers to their stores.

The path to purchase these days is not a straight line from point A to point B. Shoppers are educated and need several engaging touch points along the path to purchase.  It’s clear that buying patterns have changed and so must dealers’ strategies for turning online research into dealership sales.

Gary Galloway is the senior product marketing manager at Netsertive, serving as an adviser to top brand executives and their local partners. He provides key insights on digital trends and strategy for automotive marketers. He’s also an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, teaching digital marketing and communications.