Before Covid, shopping for a new car was fairly standardized. Buyers researched vehicle options online, then they visited the dealership to complete the deal and drive off in their dream car. There were steps between browsing and buying, but, ultimately, the path to buying a car was well tread and the route remained fairly static.
During Covid, the process changed dramatically. Suddenly buyers could purchase a car remotely online, and vehicles were delivered to buyers for test drives. Now, the post-Covid market looks different, too. The pandemic changed the car buying process, but how has dealership marketing changed post-Covid?
The Changes that Lingered After the Pandemic
Masks have been tossed aside and toilet paper is plentiful on the shelves, but other aspects related to the human experience have been forever altered since the pandemic subsided. Some changes have been negative, like a loss of friendships related to the distance kept between individuals during the pandemic. Children suffered learning losses when schools shuttered. Many businesses failed because they never financially recovered.
Some changes, though, were positive and continue even today. Consumers were forced to shop online when businesses closed. Some had to adjust to the virtual shopping experience, but, for many, the online realm became a new normal.
Grocery shopping went online; consumers could choose what they wanted and needed, pay for it online and then pick up their bags at a curbside location. Some preferred to have their groceries delivered.
Even buying a car was a virtual process. Dealerships found ways to create an online shopping experience for buyers stuck at home. Some might have utilized augmented reality experiences to help buyers explore vehicles, but photo slideshows also could help buyers visualize the car they liked and better understand its features.
Some dealerships or companies allowed the entire buying process to be a virtual experience. The consumer could choose their car online, handle the paperwork and pay or arrange for financing online, too. The car was delivered or the buyer chose to pick it up from a dealership’s location.
Now dealerships are open and have been for quite some time. The pandemic has become a tragic event from the past; while the Covid virus lingers on, vaccines have allowed many individuals to fend off the worst of its symptoms and enjoy the freedom of normalcy again.
While the dealerships are back to business as usual, the car shopping process has changed because of Covid. The standard process doesn’t always apply, and the road to car ownership and purchasing the vehicle isn’t the same path for every consumer. Some shop online and prefer a virtual experience. Younger buyers might tread on this path more than older generations.
The Evolution of Dealership Marketing After Covid
If the buying process has changed for consumers now that Covid has subsided, so, too, has marketing strategies for the companies that want the business (and dollars) of these consumers. Since many dealerships had to pivot to online shopping options, the strangeness of that digital realm has dissipated for those that might have once resisted it.
Dealerships understand that consumer buying preferences are different. Some car buyers don’t want to visit the dealership; in fact, some consumers might prefer to avoid the dealership. However, dealerships shouldn’t assume that the youngest consumers are those who prefer the online experience.
Shopping Preferences Vary by Generation
Gen Z has become the generation on which many businesses are now focusing their marketing efforts. Gen Z is the new target demographic, and even its youngest members are nearing the legal driving age. For car dealerships, Gen Z represents the youngest demographic for car buyers. However, Gen Z isn’t all about online experiences when they are on the hunt for a new car. Inspira Marketing explains that Gen Z prefers shopping for a car in-person, they want honesty, they want the sales team to respect their time and this demographic enjoys negotiating.
If Gen Z wants to purchase their vehicle in person, then who is buying online? According to the New York Times, Millennials are keen on avoiding the dealership. This generation is the demographic that’s likely to handle the buying process online using sites that offer a fully remote experience.
The Baby Boomers meanwhile might still be focused on the old standard process of buying a car. They also are known not to ask for advice about their purchase. They’re pros at buying a car, and they seem to inherently trust their own wisdom on what car is the best for them.
As for Gen X, Experian reports that they are actually the dominant buyers for new cars. Sales Floor explains that this segment of buyers is very thorough with online research and they also prefer email communication.
Marketing Tactics Should Appeal to Buyer Preferences
Millennials prefer buying a car online, and Covid moved many dealerships online. To reach Millennial buyers, dealerships might focus their marketing efforts to offer more online buying options. In addition, dealerships can provide more expansive research tools to help Gen X and even Boomers research options online, too.
To help buyers researching online for a new or used car, dealerships can include more expensive car photo slideshows to help buyers explore the features and design of vehicles. In addition, immersive tools like spin photos can appeal to younger buyers who might be looking for more hands-on experiences; spin photos depict a 3D image of the vehicle (interior or exterior) and the user can interact with it using a fingertip or a mouse.
In addition, augmented reality showrooms let users explore cars from home. Gen Z might find augmented reality tools useful when researching online at home; this generation is proficient in new technologies including augmented reality. In addition, augmented reality is accessible to many buyers as this technology only requires access to a mobile device with a camera (a smartphone or tablet).
Gen X is noted for preferring email communication. Dealerships can heighten their outreach to Gen X by utilizing email marketing campaigns to deliver targeted messages to these consumers; however, dealerships need to ask if customers wish to receive these emails. Marketing through email can include updates related to new car models, dealership promotions or even service reminders for car owners (like a reminder that the car needs an oil change).
Integrate Virtual and In-Person Experiences Into the Marketing Plan
In a post-Covid world, car dealerships will need to integrate both virtual shopping and in-person experiences into their marketing plan. Different generations prefer different shopping experiences; while Baby Boomers might be thrilled to be shopping in-person again, Millennials might continue to prefer virtual shopping when buying a new car.
Reaching each demographic also requires different channels. However, every generation benefits from more online resources that help them to understand their car buying choices. These resources can include expansive photo slideshows, interactive photos, and augmented reality showrooms.
What about social media marketing? For dealerships that want to ramp up their visibility on social media platforms, Facebook remains the most popular platform and the one that might be widely used by Baby Boomers. In addition, 40 percent of Facebook users are Gen X and Millennials (ages 30 to 49). Dealerships can choose to advertise via Facebook or simply remain active on the platform via regular posts to followers.
TikTok, however, is becoming the new social media darling and is used by Gen Z. TikTok utilizes short-form video for its content. This means that dealerships need to be a bit creative in their content creation; they can post short videos to introduce new car models or create a video series that helps buyers learn about car care or the car shopping process.
Marketing During Inflation
One of the post-Covid realities for all businesses is the issue of inflation. For car dealerships, a low inventory coupled with increased demand also led to more expensive car prices after the pandemic. Now as interest rates are higher, some car buyers might be hesitant to make a purchase.
Car dealerships don’t have control over each buyer’s finances, but dealerships can help buyers understand pricing and promotions that could help make a vehicle more affordable. If a manufacturer offers a low APR or lease deal on a model, promote this online via both the website and on social media. Send out email communications to customers, too.
Kelley Blue Book reported that the average car price is now nearly $50K, but the site explained that this increase is due to buyers choosing higher-priced vehicles. After all, during times of high interest rates, buyers with more to spend might not worry about buying a new car if money isn’t an issue.
When dealerships notice that higher-priced vehicles are selling better, promote these models. In addition, if budget-friendly models are marked down, promote the sales. Help buyers understand what vehicles are eligible for any rebates or discounts, too.
While Covid has changed the way many consumers shop for a car, others went back to embracing the old car buying traditions and aren’t interested in pivoting from these habits. When marketing to consumers in the post-Covid economy, dealerships need to keep in mind that each generation might have their own unique buying habits and preference.