The Covid vaccination is making its rounds to the most at-risk groups. But, eventually, Americans will have the option to be vaccinated against the virus that seemingly stopped life as we once knew it. During the pandemic, many businesses shut their doors and took business online. Even car dealerships might have stopped allowing in-person visits and ushered new car buyers to peruse inventory via a web site.
When limitations on in-store capacities or other mandates dissipate, how will dealerships be affected? Will car buying move online? Or maybe car shopping goes back to normal. Here’s how dealerships may change post-Covid.
Dealer Marketing noted five changes in dealerships post-Covid; these changes included social distanced appointments, virtual visits, at-home test drives, contactless buying and free delivery (e.g. “free home drop-off”). These changes were predicted back in August, and likely were meant to prepare dealerships for dealing with reopening during a still active pandemic.
But what changes can dealerships expect after Covid, after all the disruption of the fear of viral spread and months of planning out visits to only necessary trips? Our predictions dovetail on what Dealer Marketing noted back in August.
Some shoppers might not be completely comfortable just jumping back into large crowds. Maybe some individuals won’t think twice about going back to normal routines, but some Americans may remain a bit hesitant around crowds.
Social distanced appointments are likely still necessary for dealerships that remain open. Limiting contact between customers is crucial to keep everyone safe and to adhere to local mandates (where applicable).
Dealerships of course must abide by any local or state guidelines regarding Covid restrictions or mandates. When these are lifted, though, how will dealerships operate? That really depends on the individual business and/or perhaps customer preferences. Maybe after Covid becomes a non issue (after herd immunity), customers may feel more comfortable returning to standard car shopping routines. Or maybe dealerships notice that customers prefer less crowded environments.
Perhaps customers prefer virtual appointments, and maybe dealerships create options for shoppers to meet with salespeople via virtual platforms. There really isn’t one definitive answer as to how dealership appointments may be handled when life returns to some semblance of normal after Covid.
Now, though, dealerships may continue to schedule social distanced appointments to ensure the safety of both staff and customers.
During Covid, virtual became the norm for many businesses. Shopping went online. Doctor appointments went virtual. School and work was virtual. It was a virtual world.
Customers may like and even prefer virtual options. Shopping from home may be relaxing and less of a stressful situation. There are no salespeople, shoppers can peruse at their leisure, and online shopping means that consumers can step away from the screen and think about their decision for as long as necessary.
Car shopping went online during Covid for many dealerships, and this online transition likely meant that shoppers scheduled virtual visits with salespeople. Maybe this trend continues after Covid, too. While some consumers like to visit many dealerships on the hunt for the perfect vehicle, some may prefer browsing online and scheduling virtual chats with sales professionals.
Many dealerships offered virtual showrooms that provided interactive views on new makes/models or other inventory vehicles. Virtual experiences might have differed by dealership; some allowed for shoppers to fully interact with the vehicle (peeking inside the vehicle, changing paint hues, etc.). For dealerships that weren’t able to offer this service, RelayCars provided a virtual showroom for shoppers to preview and explore many different makes and models online.
If these virtual offerings were incredibly popular, dealerships may continue to offer these services after Covid.
Virtual Test Drives
Part of the car shopping experience includes test driving a new vehicle. How else can the consumer know the car is ideal unless they take it for a spin on the road? During Covid, traditional test drives might not have been an option.
Instead, dealerships offered virtual test drives. These virtual experiences were offered on different platforms. Some virtual test drives were simple YouTube videos, but other dealerships offered virtual test drives via scheduling online and delivering the vehicle to the home.
Virtual test drives allowed the car to be cleaned and sterilized after every test drive, and this likely also ensured that dealerships had more control over safety standards and protocols. Virtual test drives also provided consumers with a safe option to get a feel for the car that they wanted to purchase without worrying about crowds.
Virtual test drives likely were a great convenience for potential buyers. And perhaps after Covid, dealerships may continue to offer them for busy clients. Scheduling for a virtual test drive may allow dealerships a bit more flexibility to accommodate the schedules of buyers who continue to work from home and can’t make the drive to the dealership.
Some dealerships, though, may do away with virtual test drives if they weren’t popular. Whether this trend stays or dissolves may simply depend on the individual dealership. Demand drives options, though, so if the buyer demand for virtual test drives continues, dealerships may expand these offerings.
Consumers saw contactless drop-offs and deliveries throughout the pandemic. This was a necessary offering to ensure safety for everyone involved. Contactless buying also was an option, and online shopping was a primary example of contactless buying.
Again, customer demand could see this trend continue. But when safety concerns lessen as the vaccine becomes widely administered, maybe this trend decreases. However, some customers may continue to be hesitant about crowds, and, again, customer demand may influence dealerships to offer contactless buying. As Dealer Marketing noted, though, “Some states require physical signatures for automotive sales….” So dealerships might have needed to offer mailed contracts or other solutions.
Online buying—even for automobiles—may remain popular. However, the shopping world post Covid may see hybrid variations of this. Perhaps buyers browse online, make their selection and then complete the financing or contract negotiations at the dealership.
Free Drop Off
When buying online, consumers likely couldn’t visit the dealership to pick up their vehicle. This ushered in the need for free drop off of the new vehicle. Not only did drop offs help dealerships maintain necessary safety protocols, but many buyers also likely viewed it as a convenience.
Covid might have forever changed the car buying process, and if shoppers embrace convenience, they may continue to demand online buying and free drop off options. Will dealerships offer virtual concierge services that cater to online buyers?
Every dealership and what they offer buyers after Covid may be different. Predicting what the car buying experience looks like post-Covid is up for debate.
More Post-Covid Changes?
Beyond the five key changes that dealerships might have faced when reopening and beyond, dealerships also may see other changes to business. If customers prefer virtual experiences, including online shopping and virtual test-drives, perhaps dealerships accommodate for this demand in the future with a designated staff to provide service and assistance to those shopping online.
Dealerships may have offered virtual assistants online, but if buyers flock to web sites instead of to the brick and mortar dealerships, maybe sales professionals become focused on these buyers. Will there be more virtual experiences for online buyers, too?
An increase of online car shopping could influence other marketing decisions, like expanding virtual showrooms or including more features for the virtual showrooms. If consumers prefer to buy online, they would need the tools to preview their dream cars online. Virtual showrooms could expand to include options for shoppers to add in upgraded features to immerse in the buying experience.
Augmented reality also could become a part of the online experience, too. If shoppers can design a car online, perhaps they could explore it in the real-world environment. Lamborghini offered an augmented reality experience that allowed users to explore a vehicle inside and out; the car could be placed in the home, outside or anywhere! Perhaps dealerships adopt a similar virtual model.
During Covid, financing also might have been approved online. Buyers wanting to handle their shopping completely online also may want to continue to be able to apply for financing online, too. If dealerships don’t offer this option or if it wasn’t a mainstream option, perhaps it will be in the future. Again, the demand of the consumer may influence the offerings of each dealership. Some regions may not see much interest in online buying and may continue to do business as they did before Covid.
While the pandemic continues to disrupt how many businesses operate throughout the United States, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. As vaccines become readily available, businesses may be able to go back to business as usual. However, the pandemic might have changed how some consumers shop and make purchasing decisions. When dealerships reopened, many likely changed business protocols to ensure safety of staff and customers; virtual visits, social-distanced appointments, virtual test drives, contactless purchasing, and free delivery options all changed how many dealerships operated during the pandemic. Will these options continue when the pandemic subsides? The popularity of online shopping—even for car buying—may continue to influence the industry. What trends stay and what ones disappear, though, may ultimately depend on customer demand and what each dealership can offer.