Covid changed lives in the U.S. and around the globe. Trips to stores required masks and social distancing. Car dealerships might have faced closures, too, for in-person experiences. However, as the country re-opened gradually, dealerships and other businesses also had to evolve in their business procedures.
The National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) focused on three dealership trends that arose during the pandemic and helped boost dealership success when business was not so normal. Will these three Covid-era trends stick around at dealerships?
Contactless payment options, digital billing and a move towards increased security were the three trends outlined by NADA that helped boost dealership success as the pandemic surged. Let’s look at these trends and how they might continue even when masks are being shed and life is slowly returning to the old normal.
Most stores that were open to the public during Covid—and even now—might not have accepted money. Paper and coins could have been ‘dirty’ and considered a risk for spreading Covid. The solution? Most businesses preferred card payments.
As the pandemic continued, banks also began issuing new debit or credit cards featuring a chip option that needed only to be waved in front of a payment sensor to complete a transaction. These contactless payment methods ensured that no one made contact, and, hopefully, helped minimize the spread of Covid.
NADA cited a survey from MasterCard that reported that an overwhelming majority of consumers (79 percent) who participated in the survey noted that they paid via contactless transactions! In addition, almost three out of four respondents (74 percent) expressed that they would continue to use this form of payment even when the pandemic has resolved.
Dealerships who already have updated their payment methods to accept contactless payment may continue to see consumers waving their card instead of sliding the strip or popping in the chip. As consumers adjust to using this form of payment, they may continue to prefer it for safety reasons…or maybe even just out of habit or convenience.
Some trends that arose out of necessity during Covid to minimize disease spread could lead to consumers becoming more hyper aware of safety and staying germ free. After all, if contactless payments were utilized to keep the consumer from touching equipment or making contact with another individual to minimize the spread of Covid, maybe this payment option also keeps down the spread of typical seasonal viruses, too, like the common cold or the flu. It certainly couldn’t hurt.
In addition, many banks issued new contactless cards that don’t expire for a few years. While consumers still likely have the option of swiping or using the chip, contactless could just be easier. In addition, digital payment options like Apple Pay also allow customers to make purchases without even touching their card.
NADA pointed out that digital billing options also helped dealerships succeed during the pandemic. So what are digital billing options? This payment option lets the customer choose their preferred payment; maybe they prefer to go into the dealership and pay or maybe they just want to make a payment virtually.
NADA explains that these billing options are sent from the dealership virtually via a message (text or email). The email then lets the customer go to a payment portal to navigate their preferences and select how they wish to make their payment.
Digital billing isn’t really new, but NADA notes that it does give dealerships a convenient way to accept down payments or other payments virtually. Digital billing also could include payments on file; so the dealership saves a payment method (like a credit card) and automatically bills the customer.
Convenience is a key factor in these billing options. Not only does it provide dealerships with a bit more control over getting paid, but it also can give consumers options on how they want to make those payments. In the past, perhaps customers had to go to the dealership to pay.
Hospitals and other businesses offer digital billing, too. Maybe customers find a link to the portal on a paper bill or virtual statement. They can make the payment online using an echeck or a credit card. Maybe the customer (or patient) also could set up a virtual payment plan to have payments automatically deducted each month.
Will this trend continue? Digital billing can be incredibly convenient for the consumer. Online portals can let them bypass visits to the dealerships to just make a payment at home. Again, other businesses may have offered these options before Covid. So they’re probably not going anywhere!
No, this isn’t about video cameras or actual security guards at dealerships. The increased security during the pandemic was related to protecting that digital data…and also lowering losses for the dealership. Contactless payments and digital billing likely meant the dealerships needed to ensure that all this data was well guarded and protected.
NADA advises dealerships to choose “…a secure payment processing solution.” NADA also noted that the contactless payment options offered more security and instead of putting the responsibility on the dealership, the payment processor was liable for any counterfeit transactions.
As many consumers now prefer to use contactless payment options and utilize online payments, they also may be concerned about the security of these transactions. Dealerships also obviously don’t want to hold the losses for any digital theft, which means they may be eyeing the most secure payment options available to them.
WHAT ELSE MIGHT THE PANDEMIC CHANGE FOR DEALERSHIPS?
As the pandemic forced many dealerships to take car shopping online, consumers may enjoy more unique interactive and virtual shopping options after the pandemic. Virtual showrooms, virtual test drives and even remote customer service were part of the Covid shopping experience.
Virtual showrooms offered consumers a way to preview and explore different vehicles without leaving their home. They could choose a vehicle and preview it in 3D, using their mouse to explore the interior and exterior of the vehicle. Virtual showrooms gave consumers a way to explore new makes and models any time of day. No visits to a showroom or a car lot were required!
When car shoppers couldn’t visit the dealership for a test drive, many dealerships offered virtual test drives. While sites like YouTube offered video experiences of test drives, the virtual experiences that were offered by dealerships during the pandemic weren’t virtual in a technological way. Instead, the virtual test drive meant that dealerships delivered the vehicle to the consumer. The test drive was ‘virtual’ in that it happened remotely away from the dealership. The virtual test drive allowed dealerships to control the experience, including any cleaning procedures necessary to ensure safety.
Before Covid, dealerships already might have offered online customer service assistance in the form of a chat option on the web site. During Covid, these chat experiences might have been the way that the sales team connected to customers. Or maybe video conferencing was also used. Each dealership might have offered their own unique virtual customer service options. Maybe phone calls were preferred…or email.
Consumers might be used to the virtual shopping experience, so perhaps dealerships continue to offer these virtual options online. Shoppers may find that online virtual showrooms are a convenient way to research their options without pressure, and the resource may allow them to go into the dealership knowing the car they want.
Virtual test drives are convenient. For individuals who continue to work from home or who just have incredibly busy schedules, a virtual test drive could be the best option. This saves time driving to the dealership and could help speed up the car buying process for the customer.
Online customer service was utilized before the pandemic, and dealerships may continue to offer these virtual chat options to help customers who are looking at their inventory online. The online chat (or customer service) option lets customers easily communicate with the sales team and find out more information on available vehicles.
While Covid has changed some shopping processes, the way each consumer prefers to conduct their hunt for the perfect automobile may be rooted in their own personal comfort and preferences. Some consumers may favor the old methodologies of the car shopping experience. They may continue to gravitate to the dealership and may visit several dealerships before settling on their ideal vehicle.
Others, when and if given the choice between in-person and virtual, may choose the virtual option. Younger buyers might prefer this option, as the online experience is so familiar. They may have no problem conducting transactions online or just conducting their research with online tools. Maybe they even prefer virtual communication to visiting the dealership and dealing with face-to-face sales interactions.
As the nation begins to see Covid cases drop, and, hopefully, eventually disappear, the trends for car shopping may begin to emerge. There could be a hybrid shopping experience that takes root post-Covid, with some aspects of the new car hunt going online while in-person remains for other aspects of the process. Again, though, some shoppers may always prefer the real life experience. Others may simply want to avoid in-person completely. But it’s also possible that Covid left a permanent virtual mark on dealerships that may linger long term.