How digital is changing the car buying landscape


For most people, buying a car is still an emotional decision. The emergence of the numerous online car buying and building tools won’t change that. What is changing is how, when and where shoppers do their research and negotiation. Car buying going forward will be much more transactional in nature and less of an impulse purchase at the dealership.

The research online, purchase offline trend is growing continuously. Some 70 percent of auto customers start their journey digitally and the car manufacturer and dealer websites now play an increasingly vital role in the sales process. Over half of today’s car shoppers say the dealer’s online offerings have an important influence on their final purchase decisions. In light of this, dealers and manufacturers should have a system in place for continuously adapting their websites to integrate the new technological advancements.

The days of an auto buyer visiting a handful of dealerships, walking onto the car lot, stating that he or she is in the market for a car and being pitched one or several vehicles are quickly fading away.

The sales battleground is clearly moving to the web. The democratization and availability of information online is reducing the amount of negotiation and paperwork performed at the store. The ability to learn about available vehicles, compare them to one another, negotiate prices and complete the loan paperwork from home are changing the roles of the sales staff and F&I managers.

Done correctly, a more streamlined online process that makes the vehicle search and purchase processes more efficient for the customer will also benefit the dealership.

Dealers should embrace this technological revolution as it facilitates the selling of vehicles and also reduces the overhead required to staff a big sales and finance team. Greater focus should be placed on the customer experience, both online and in-store. More dealer funds should be allocated to website optimization including functionality on mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.

To say the Internet is changing the car-buying process would be an understatement. The customer experience will be critical in driving sales and profit going forward.

As showroom visits continue to decline, dealerships need to view the changes underfoot as an opportunity, not a limitation.

Bill Gerhard
Author: Bill Gerhard

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