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Advantages of Automotive Digital Retailing: Transform the Experience

By Mark Geletka | Jun 17, 2024

Last updated on Jun 17, 2024

In the internet’s early days, music, books, and collectibles were some of the only products sold online. Times have changed a lot since then, and digital retail has grown to encompass just about every product and industry. Today, the internet plays a key role in the buying experience for everything from homes to vacation packages to automobiles.

Automotive digital retail, in particular, is a trend that's really taken off in recent years. Even if a consumer ultimately purchases their vehicle from a dealership's lot rather than purchasing it online, a lot of the buying journey still takes place on the internet, whether that’s to research specific models, explore vehicles for sale in their area, compare financing options or search for sales specials to find the best available price. 

To help you take full advantage of this relatively new arena for automotive sales, let's take a detailed look at what automotive digital retail is, its advantages, and how to get started creating a best-in-class buying experience for your customers.

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The new era of the car buying experience

We are in a new era of car buying. By integrating digital and in-store sales processes, dealerships can offer a seamless transition between online research and in-store visits.

Customer experience offerings

  • Exploring dealership inventory from anywhere
  • Customizing vehicles via interactive tools
  • Learning about vehicle protection products
  • Scheduling sales and service appointments
  • Streamlining the transaction with digital documentation and e-signatures

This, of course, is just the beginning, and the room for creativity and innovation is unlimited. 
Along with creating enjoyable experiences for customers, automotive digital retail also allows dealerships to collect valuable data that can be used to create a personalized buying journey both in-store and online.

The long-term benefits gained by the dealerships offering optimized buying experiences are substantial. It helps dealerships set themselves apart from the competition and attract new customers, and enables buyers to complete as much or as little of the transaction online as they prefer. And an efficient, personalized experience is exactly what today’s customers are looking for.

Customer experience as a priority

One of the biggest advantages of automotive digital retailing is that it helps improve the customer experience — something every dealer should be prioritizing.

Today, 60% of car buyers under the age of 45 say they prefer to purchase their next vehicle online. If you want to meet the needs of this new generation of car buyers and give them the kind of experience they've come to expect, automotive digital retail is key.

Transparent pricing, available specials and finance offers, and a menu of protection products and educational materials are all examples of things customers will expect to find when they go to your dealership’s website. By offering these options, you're responding to customer expectations and bringing new buyers in, which is a direct benefit to your bottom line.

The digital sales process: efficiency and engagement

Purchasing a new car isn't quite as straightforward as buying a new shirt or a new pair of shoes. Not only do buyers tend to do a lot more research when choosing a vehicle to purchase, but the sales process requires numerous steps and a lot of paperwork. By offering your customers a "path of least resistance" in the form of streamlined sales and shorter transaction times, you can increase the likelihood of creating a positive customer experience and closing the deal.

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With tools like online documents, appointment scheduling software, and seamless communication channels, dealerships can offer even more convenience to their customers. Digital showrooms and interactive online tools can help customers decide which vehicle they want to purchase, choose protection products and calculate their payments before they ever step foot on your lot.

Integrating online and in-store sales processes further improves the buying experience, boosting sales and customer retention alike. The increased efficiency offered by digital sales processes is something that your staff is sure to appreciate as well, reducing their administrative burden and freeing them up to spend more time focusing on closing deals.

Customer retention in the digital age

Turning customers into loyal brand advocates is a top priority for any automotive dealership. Thankfully, there are several powerful ways that automotive digital retail helps promote retention.

Personalized digital follow-ups post-purchase is one such strategy that dealerships can leverage to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty. Whether it's a salesperson sending a thank you text or email, or an automated process at key touchpoints in sales, service and F&I, personalized communications make people feel appreciated and give your dealership the opportunity to quickly address any issues or concerns they might have.

To drive customer retention, you want to create opportunities for ongoing engagement with people in a way they prefer to interact. From emails about new offerings and promotions to online resources and beyond, connecting with buyers online opens the door for the type of relationship that will keep them coming back to your dealership.

Download the Free Guide: How Top Dealerships Are Evolving Their F&I Process →

Boosting sales performance with digital retail

When you offer customers a streamlined, personalized experience (and one that doesn't end once they drive off the lot), it's bound to improve sales performance. Customers who are given an enjoyable, hassle-free experience and are treated like individuals are a lot more likely to do business with your dealership again and again. It's really as simple as that. 

But along with boosting sales via an improved buyer experience, leveraging digital tools is something that can also equip your sales team for success. From CRM software for managing data to sales presentation tools to online sales training platforms for honing the skills of your sales team, there's no shortage of efficiencies you can find to boost performance.

To maximize your team’s potential, you should have a plan on how to improve and maximize sales within a digital framework, providing clarity and direction for your entire store.

Your plan should cover:

  • Strategies for leveraging digital tools
  • Integrating online and in-store experiences
  • Delivering on a seamless and customer-centric sales process
  • Leveraging data to offer personalized shopping experiences

Reliability and transparency in auto sales

Building trust with your customers is vital to the success of any dealership. By boosting the reliability and transparency of your sales process, you can make it even easier for customers to trust you.

Digital tools facilitate accurate, up-to-date information and standardized, reliable sales processes, which helps ensure customers have the best experience possible. Remember, like any online environment, user experience is key. Ensure your website and e-commerce tools mirror your in-store inventory, pricing, finance options, service offerings and more, so buyers aren't hit with any unpleasant surprises like pricing discrepancies. In doing so, you improve the auto sales experience and build credibility with your customers.

The automotive leader’s guide to digital advantages

Digital retail can generate substantial ROI by improving the customer experience, boosting sales performance, increasing efficiency and more. Now more than ever, it is essential to stay ahead of the curve by looking for innovative new ways to leverage digital solutions. Those who are willing to embrace and commit to this evolution will be much better poised for long-term success than those who are not.

There are a lot of case studies that prove this to be true. Just as one example, though, consider the story of Bergstrom Automotive: a dealership in Devils Lake, ND that was able to achieve a 95% customer satisfaction rate using JM&A's Virtual F&I process.

Closing

Nearly everyone expects to have information at their fingertips whenever they want it. And when your dealership is just a search away, the advantages of automotive digital retailing are more abundant than ever before. An optimized digital experience isn't just something that customers appreciate — it's something they need. By striving to implement innovative solutions, automotive leaders can meet these expectations while unlocking a wealth of other benefits.

To learn more about the actionable strategies you can use to take full advantage of its benefits, be sure to download our free ebook on how top dealerships are selling to today’s consumers.

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