Covid exacerbated the chip crisis and the economic impact reverberated throughout the automotive industry. Dealerships are still dealing with low inventory for some new models, and higher prices and crunched supply also has impacted the pre-owned/used market, too.
In normal circumstances, dealerships would be marketing sales, promotions and new inventory. During a supply crunch, though, dealerships might be pivoting their marketing approach to focus more on customer relationships. Low inventory could shift the focus of the dealership experience to emphasize a more personalized approach to customer service. Dealerships and their sales teams might focus their efforts on:
- Customer outreach and online customer service
- Follow-up communications
- Engaging experiences
- Marketing other services
How Inventory Changes the Sales Goal
Sales professionals aim to close the deal. At car dealerships, they want to move those new and used models off the lot. During an inventory shortage, the dealership might be moving cars as soon as they hit the lot.
Buyers know that supply is crunched. They understand that if they want a particular model, they need to move quickly. If a customer walks away from a vehicle, or if they don’t want to commit at that moment, the sales team might have other buyers ready to secure the deal.
When inventory is low and demand is high, selling cars quickly likely isn’t a problem for many dealerships. Keeping customers happy, though, and helping them find the car they want, might be an issue.
Dealerships may shift their focus on customer satisfaction and look for ways to ensure that customers can find what they need in a market that is short on inventory.
Customer Outreach and Online Customer Service
Dealerships engage online through digital ads and through their own social media channels. Ads often include a call to action (CTA) or a form that prompts potential customers to enter their information for updates on models or to inquire about a specific automobile.
These inquiries for customer outreach can allow customers to make contact with dealerships to find a car during an inventory shortage and engage with the dealership. For the sales team, these ads and inquiries might develop into sales leads and a sales relationship with the customer.
Some buyers aren’t finding their vehicles through ads on Facebook or via social media. Instead, they may be online trying to find a specific car and visiting different dealership websites. This could lead them to utilizing online customer service chat services or virtual customer service assistants.
Dealerships that don’t provide online customer service might be missing a crucial tool for engaging customers and developing additional sales relationships. While selling inventory might not be so challenging for the dealership, finding the right car could be a major challenge for the customer.
Providing online customer service tools and utilizing online forms linked to ads that enable customers to inquire about different models could be part of a customer-focused marketing strategy during an inventory shortage.
How the sales team handles customers reflects the dealership culture, but follow-up communications also are a part of marketing. Following up with customers is good business and keeping a positive relationship with customers also can lead to referrals.
When a customer sends an inquiry online, engages with a sales team member via chat functions or submits a form with their contact info, they don’t want those communiqués to fall into the dark hole of cyberspace.
When a customer is on the hunt for a vehicle, and they are asking for and reaching out for help, communication and updates can help them feel that the team is actively helping them.
During a vehicle shortage, the sales team—and the dealership, in general—only have so much power in obtaining a vehicle or locating a specific model. However, when a sales member goes the extra mile for a customer by sending an email with other vehicles that fit their needs and making every effort to find the vehicle they want, the outreach could speak volumes to a customer that might have felt overwhelmed by the car hunt.
Vehicles may be moving off the lot quickly, but there are still customers who are trying to navigate a shortage that might leave them with few choices. Communication about new inventory, updates about delivery dates of models or just a quick note to let the customer know the status of a car hunt can help them feel that the dealership values that relationship and their business.
The pandemic is continuing to impact how many shops for goods and services. Some consumers have no issue visiting a crowded store or dealership, but others are still nervous about these spaces.
Online shopping became a safe way to make purchases during the pandemic, and, for many consumers, it also is extremely convenient. Some consumers prefer the online experience.
Online shopping isn’t going anywhere. In fact, younger generations also could favor this virtual experience; in fact, Generation Y (aka Millennials) prefers ‘experiences.’ They also don’t necessarily gravitate toward cars; they would actually rather go see the dentist.
Dealerships can engage younger customers online and amplify the user experience by providing more immersive and engaging content to aid shoppers on their hunt for the perfect automobile.
More businesses now offer try-on experiences via augmented reality. These experiences allow the customer to preview an item in their home or even on their face (for makeup). Dealerships and automotive manufacturers offer augmented reality experiences that let a car model appear in the user’s space.
In addition, EVOX Images offers dealership imagery that encourages user engagement. For example, 360 spin photos and 360 panorama spins let a customer explore a vehicle using their mouse or their fingertip.
With a 360 spin photo, a 3D image of the vehicle can be turned all the way around for the customer to view the design. Panorama photos let the user explore the inside of the vehicle; they can navigate around the vehicle to see different aspects of the front seat, the back seats and even the roof.
For consumers shopping for a new car from home, these experiences let them understand more about each model. While standard photographs can show up-close details of the vehicle, spin photos give the user a sense of walking around the car or even sitting in the car. These photos can simulate the experiences that the consumer might have in the actual showroom.
Marketing Other Services
Not every consumer is looking for a new or used vehicle. Some are past customers of the dealership; they may need to have their car serviced. Others might want to trade-in an old lease for a new lease.
Dealerships offer more than just car sales. Marketing these services can ensure that customers remember that it’s time for an oil change or that their car is in need of another service. Dealerships might send a reminder that a lease is about to end. Dealership Marketing says it best: “…you want to keep your brand awareness high.”
Keeping up with marketing endeavors also helps customers who may wonder if business is back to normal. Marketing emails or communications also could note any safety protocol that the dealership requires.
While inventory shortages might mean that dealerships can’t keep cars on the lot, these shortages also can lead to customers who feel frustrated with a lack of selection. Some customers may be waiting to buy a car until the shortage isn’t an issue. However, dealerships can focus on customer service and engaging customers to ensure that the dealership experience remains positive.
In addition, dealerships should stay in contact with past customers and focus on marketing communiqués about lease updates, service needs, etc. Eventually, the market will balance out again, customers will be able to find the models they want, and business for dealerships might return to a more normal routine.