The race to change: Customer or dealer first

Do you remember the days before online shopping or when you had to look at purchases one product or item at a time? Catalogs with earmarked pages littered your house and call centers waited for your call to take an order. It’s what we knew, but it wasn’t practical. We didn’t have the concept of self-service or the desire and expectation of immediate gratification that now infiltrates nearly everything.

Enter the greatest online retail invention, EVER…the shopping cart. No longer did you have to focus on one purchase at a time—you got the literal experience of the shopping cart from the grocery store or Target adapted to an online environment. Why? Because someone smart realized how easy, flexible and convenient it would be for the consumer.

And we’ve seen some interesting change in the automotive industry like autonomous cars and ride share. But at the dealership level are we adapting to what the customer wants and expects? Or are we trying to fit them into a box of our change and what we think they want?

Why the consumer experience in automotive is broken.

It’s clear to me that we have a long way to go. When it comes to buying a car, we haven’t helped the consumer meet these mounting expectations, according to the Cox Automotive 2018 Car Buyer Journey report, or any conversation you have with someone who recently bought a car. The average consumer spends nearly 15 hours researching before buying a car and then another three onsite at the dealership of which half is spent on negotiating and paperwork. Pair this with longer loan terms, higher payments and changing mentalities, and I can see why sales are suffering and why the consumer feels generally uncomfortable and anxious with the whole process.

Let’s think about the consumer.

People are inundated with different ways to engage with businesses, brands and industries. We as consumers have also completely shifted our expectations on how and where we interact, just like the online shopping cart.

It’s a free-for-all with stiff competition to grab attention…from brands, social influencers, apps, online advertising, on-demand TV. What’s clear is that we—as consumers—expect and want immediate gratification. Online banking and self-service check-in for flights were the tip of the iceberg. Services like Instacart, Amazon and others have only furthered the immediacy of consumer expectation. It’s an area where dealerships can’t seem to compete.

Look at the collective picture. Consumers want ease, the ability to control something from wherever they are…they want flexibility at the end of the day.

Is subscription the next online shopping cart?

So, my dealer friends, colleagues in the auto industry and anyone who’s interested, the messages are mixed internally and OEM conversations further cloud the what’s next. But dealerships, independent and franchise alike, are at a crossroads. What’s the best path forward—the one you are on or something different entirely? I’d argue it’s one with the consumer as the driver literally and figuratively. Car subscriptions do that. They put the consumer in control and turn a process and experience that usually makes someone anxious into one that provides a feeling of anticipation.

We’ll continue to see change in the automotive industry, but dealers have the opportunity to respond to consumer expectations right now. Chicken or egg? You know my opinion.


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