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Misconceptions About Digital Retailing

They’re not buying online — they’re shopping.

One of the effects of the COVID pandemic is that it sped up the evolution — and adoption — of digital retailing services. If they didn’t already before, consumers now expect to be able to research, purchase and have delivered almost everything from the convenience of a phone. Especially in light of how the automotive industry responded to the pandemic, with at-home test rides and easy online selling through sites like Carvana, whether you like it or not, consumers now expect the same of powersports dealerships.

“Customers want to browse inventory, compare models, secure financing and even possibly complete transactions without visiting a physical dealership,” says Johnathan Aguero, vice president of revenue at Blackpurl. 

Now hold the phone, you say. How are you supposed to increase profit margins if you don’t bring customers in to speak with salespeople who upsell them? Well, contrary to popular opinion, digital retailing does not prevent customers from coming to the dealership. In fact, it can even enhance the process and customer loyalty in the long run, as long as it’s done properly.

Meet Customers Where They Are

Note the word “possibly” in Aguero’s above statement. While customers increasingly enjoy the convenience of online shopping, there are still some items, including vehicles, that they want to check out in person before buying. After all, nobody wants to drop tens of thousands of dollars on something without first confirming it meets their expectations.

But that doesn’t mean you can just expect people to come to your store. You have to meet today’s customers where they start their journeys: online.

“The onus is on the business to meet the consumer … where they’re at,” says Bernie Brenner, CEO of Rollick. “If you don’t meet them where they’re at, then you only provide frustration for them. If they have an expectation of how technology should work and how they should be interacted with and engaged with, then it’s the responsibility of the business to provide that, build that or deploy that.”

Once you hook them, then it becomes a simple matter of reeling them into the store for the final purchase process. Unfortunately, due to various misconceptions about what digital retailing actually means, many powersports dealers have neglected to upgrade their digital spaces and reap the benefits of having technology work for them.

Misconceptions About Digital Retailing

Digital retailing is really the wrong term,” Brenner asserts. “I want to stress that it doesn’t mean you’re buying this unit online. It’s more like, how do you create a super lead or a stronger introduction with greater connection between the buyer and the seller?”

Furthermore, Aguero adds, digital retailing includes hybrid experiences, such as live chat, virtual showrooms and personalized recommendations. These options enhance the customer experience by creating convenience and an individualized experience right from the start.

As such, digital retailing is actually a great method for getting all the information you need to know about a customer before they ever come into the store. By optimizing your website and dealer management system (DMS), you can gate certain information (such as quotes) by asking pertinent questions — like whether or not the customer has a trade-in, is pre-qualified, etc. — as well as find out what sort(s) of vehicles that customer is browsing. Your salespeople can receive these leads all without having to lift a finger.

“If you allow the consumer to provide information in a manner in which they believe they will get value out of providing the information, they will,” Brenner says.

Sales 101

Now, you might be asking: If it’s so easy to get all this information, then why aren’t dealerships already doing it? They very well might be, but having the right tools doesn’t mean they’re being used.

Unfortunately, what occurs more often than not is customers give dealerships all the information they need in order to move the transaction down the sales funnel as far as they can go before arriving at the dealership. But at that point, when they enter, they are asked once again for every piece of information they’ve already given — what they’re looking for, whether or not they have a trade-in, if they need financing, and so on.

Think about it from another perspective. When you order something online, if you have to enter your shipping information and then reenter that same information for billing (instead of just clicking on a simple box), that’s frustrating, isn’t it? Customers feel the same way in this instance.

Getting the answers to these questions should fall into the same category as asking a customer for their name. How many times should that happen? Only once. Any salesperson would tell you that.

For this reason, sales training is imperative when it comes to moving the process from online to offline. This is where the breakdown often happens, and it comes down to the competency of the salesperson. If you already have these tools from a technology integration company and the information is being presented to your staff in simple, digestible emails, then it’s up to your salespeople to be reading those emails and using the information within them.

“This is sales 101. Learn as much as you can about the prospect so you can, again, meet them where they’re at and you know what they need, what they’re missing, all these other things,” Brenner reiterates.

In fact, he argues, getting this information online speeds up the purchase process and gets the consumer to where the dealer wants them to be — in the dealership. After all, the customer is taking himself down the process funnel. In this way, the dealer can then focus on the experience at the dealership, the product itself, as well as accessorizing, which is highly profitable.

“Product is the key, and the passion sits with the product, so I think if you can get through ‘process’ to get to ‘product’ and accessorization and fun, that is where the dealer and the consumer are going to just thrive together, because there’s no friction in that,” Brenner claims. “I think the biggest misconception is they’ll lose connection with the customer, and in fact, they’ll actually establish a greater connection with the customer.”

“A common concern is that digital retailing will replace staff members,” Aguero adds. “There’s a strong case to be made that digital retailing isn’t about replacing salespeople, but enhancing the customer experience. While it may allow you to get more done with fewer staff members long-term, salespeople will still be needed to provide personalized assistance and build relationships.”

But at What Cost?

Naturally, these digital solutions come with a cost, but that initial investment — coupled with the staff training, marketing and security-related concerns per handling sensitive customer information online — should be looked at as just that: an investment in enhancing your digital retailing methodology and, therefore, your business.

“Another misconception is that costs are too large at the moment. There’s some good evidence that the upfront costs can be outweighed by long-term benefits like increased reach and efficiency. Digital retailing doesn’t necessarily lower profit margins. It can increase sales and customer loyalty,” Aguero concludes.  

Next week, we’ll look at the benefits and best practices concerning digital retailing.

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