The Demise of Retail Car Sales: A Call to Action

I’ve hit a moment of Zen, or maybe it’s a mud­dy rut, along the path of my car-buy­ing jour­ney. I recent­ly went to test dri­ve sev­er­al vehi­cles that I had con­fig­ured and request­ed online. As I wrote in my last post, I was shocked at the lack of inter­ac­tion, gen­er­al cus­tomer cour­tesy, and knowl­edge that I expe­ri­enced dur­ing the whole process. No one that I talked to at any of the car deal­er­ships I vis­it­ed seemed to have any real under­stand­ing of the car-buy­ing process. After I left, I didn’t receive any fol­low-up infor­ma­tion or con­tact. When I did con­tact com­pa­nies request­ing more infor­ma­tion on the car, I didn’t even receive a call back!

It’s iron­ic that my first face-to-face human inter­ac­tions with the auto­mo­tive brands were so lack­ing in human interaction.

The State of Retail Car Sales

If you think about it, why are the phys­i­cal retail sites need­ed any­way? To wash the cars before hand­ing over the keys? To give inter­est­ed con­sumers a place to research the cars using print­ed brochures? I mean, someone’s got to keep those brochure racks stocked, right? Or maybe it’s finance. Any­one who’s pur­chased a vehi­cle through a deal­er­ship has had to sit in the finan­cial room of doom and sign their life away.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly for these retail sites, the tech­ni­cal world, and the peo­ple liv­ing in it, have grown up. Con­sumers are accus­tomed to—and in many cas­es prefer—researching the brochure con­tent on their own using the Inter­net. Loans are processed remote­ly every sin­gle day with­out the need to sit down at the table with some­one and sign papers. Oh, and GAP insur­ance is avail­able online too … sorry.

Even when it comes to deliv­ery, it wouldn’t be strange to have car com­pa­nies deliv­er the vehi­cle to your doorstep as opposed to hav­ing some­one who has no inter­est in who you are hand­ing over the keys—and prob­a­bly charg­ing a deal­er fee. This lev­el of ser­vice could dif­fer­en­ti­ate the auto­mo­tive brands while elim­i­nat­ing deal­er­ship overhead.

A Call to Action

In order to suc­ceed, retail car busi­ness­es need to inter­act with their cus­tomers in a valu­able and fun way. They need to show inter­est in why the cus­tomer is buy­ing a cer­tain car, and help guide them along in their pur­chase. They need to be knowl­edge­able about the fea­tures of the vehi­cle and be able to answer ques­tions the con­sumer might have.

This is human inter­ac­tion, and it can be very hard. It involves imple­ment­ing bet­ter mar­ket­ing and automa­tion to pro­vide con­sumers with a more flu­id expe­ri­ence as they move from research­ing the car online to actu­al­ly com­ing in for a test dri­ve. It involves fol­low-up con­tact after the test dri­ve to see if there are any ques­tions, or at least call­ing the cus­tomers back when they call ask­ing for more infor­ma­tion. This involves train­ing the right peo­ple with the right human inter­ac­tion skills to pro­vide a bet­ter retail experience.

Because in the end, if retail doesn’t do it, the auto­mo­tive man­u­fac­tur­ers will. Think about it, a man­u­fac­tur­er could take one niche vehi­cle, sell it only online, and see how it per­forms. It if it does well, add anoth­er, slow­ing reduc­ing the size of your retail pres­ence while invest­ing more in online adver­tis­ing and cus­tomer expe­ri­ence. Pret­ty soon research and dis­cov­ery, pri­vate test dri­ves, online financ­ing, and door-to-door deliv­ery will be the new norm, and the need for the retail car busi­ness will be no more.