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Sales and Service

What Digital Retailing Actually Means

In the age of the internet, consumers have the expectation of being able to receive information anywhere at any time. As technology advances, more and more consumers also expect the internet to remember their entered information and preferences. This capability is a huge part of the customer experience — and it often makes or breaks it.

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The internet’s importance to consumers only intensified with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. With nowhere to go at the start, people turned to the internet to figure out their “new normal.” Online ordering and delivery for groceries became a reality. Streaming services supplanted movie theaters. In just a few months, digital retailing became the primary means of retailing.

The powersports industry benefitted from this wave. As people sought out socially distanced activities, they turned to the internet to look up what they could do and purchase. They found powersports. However, while sales skyrocketed, fewer people were coming into dealerships due to lockdowns and uncertainty. The question that for years had been nagging in the backs of dealers’ minds — can you buy a new or used powersports vehicle online? — was suddenly at the forefront.

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The answer they found? No, you can’t. But the digital retailing component was and still remains key to driving a sale in today’s world.

What is Digital Retailing?

“Digital retailing is sort of a misunderstood concept. It’s supposed to mean people can buy online, but that doesn’t tell the whole story,” Bernie Brenner, CEO of Rollick Inc., says.

Even if home deliveries and pickups make it more convenient for customers to obtain or trade-in vehicles, what automotive and powersports dealers alike have found is that for a purchase of this complexity and magnitude, there still needs to be an in-person sale.

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But there also seems to be a misunderstanding about whether people actually want to be able to buy vehicles online.

For instance, PwC notes that 82% of Americans actually desire to interact more with a person as technology improves.1 Powersports can be highly accessorized, after all, and buyers usually aren’t purchasing out of necessity but rather enthusiasm. Dealers too are enthusiasts, so those personal conversations about power, handling, accessories and more become an enjoyable part of the experience and also an opportunity for salespeople to show off their knowledge and recommendations. A customer can’t get that same level of personal recommendation or expertise just by reading a vehicle’s detail page on a website.

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Since digital retailing in the powersports market doesn’t mean buying these big toys online, then what exactly is it?

Digital retailing really means deeper engagement,” Brenner argues. “If you give [customers] the tools to provide more information to you, then that allows you to have a deeper understanding of their needs so that you are responding to their needs and desires appropriately.”

In other words, you can generate a dynamic exchange of information to lead customers closer to the transaction — but not actually complete it — online.

Creating a Seamless Experience

Most people use the internet primarily as a way to gather information. Consider your customer base. Right now, the vast majority is made up of baby boomers, Gen Xers and millennials. Coincidentally, these are also the generations who will mostly likely first go online to research your dealership and its inventory before even setting foot in your store. Seventy-three percent of baby boomers, 69% of Gen X and 59% of millennials use the internet first and foremost as a means to gather data; Gen Z is the only outlier, where 72% go online mainly for entertainment.2

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For this reason, your dealership needs to have all the information available that customers want online, because if they can’t get it, they’re going to be frustrated. But fret not — this is a give-and-take relationship. Today, customer information is akin to currency, and you are well within the bounds of retailing propriety to ask for it. In fact, consumers will give their information to you without question … as long as they get valuable information in exchange.

“Consumers are willing to voluntarily give up more information because it helps the consumer, but it also helps the dealer,” Brenner notes. “If a consumer is willing to tell you, ‘Not only do I want to get a quote on this unit, but I want to get prequalified for financing, and I have a trade-in, and here is my payout on the trade,’ and whatever information they may also want to volunteer — if you give them the opportunity to do that, they will, and that is so helpful to the salesperson in understanding who the customer is as they reach out to contact them.”

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For example, by asking some key questions to consumers online — are they in the military or part of a specific club, do they have a trade-in, or would they like to get prequalified? — you can return that favor by providing information about available discounts, trade-in values and more. That’s a valuable exchange of data, and as long as it’s worthwhile to them, consumers are willing to transact in that way.

Brenner sees the success rate of this exchange at work in the tool his company created for dealer websites. It displays an “offers tab” on the website, which allows customers to view offers from manufacturers, the dealership, or even potential lenders like Synchrony Financial. According to Brenner, that tab generates a lot of clicks, and people have shared more information than might be expected to find out if they are eligible for these offers.

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Of course, asking customers the questions is only the first part of crafting a proper digital retailing experience. There are two other components as well.

First, you have to make it easy for the customer to give you information. For instance, think about when you order something online: What if, after entering your shipping information, you had to actually type out your billing information and could not just click “same as shipping address”? That would be infuriating, right?

The same concept applies here. While many dealers offer a form online for customers to request a quote on a unit, for example, if those customers then decide to look at another option or do a trade-in — or even come in a few days later to look some more — they have to enter all that information all over again.

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“[Customers] make the connection between technology and customer experience only when technology fails; they have an expectation that technology is going to work and make their lives easier. They have an expectation that of course you’re going to be intuitive about the data you ask from [them],” Brenner explains.

Where this exchange of information upsets the customer is when the dealership fails to utilize what it has been given. This is the second component of the experience.

In other words, if a consumer provides data that is stored in your dealership’s CRM, there needs to be a seamless hand-off between the customer and you, so that when that customer does finally come in, the salesperson can greet him or her and have all that person’s information at hand, so no time is wasted rehashing what’s already been given.

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According to Brenner, one aspect of the experience that some dealers struggle with in particular is paying attention to a customer’s preferred form of communication. For instance, if a customer or lead prefers to be contacted by text rather than phone, don’t call that person. If you do, the customer will feel as if you ignored all the information he or she took the time to give you.

Marketing Used Vehicles

Another important aspect to digital retailing is, of course, marketing, and there are some key differences dealers need to keep in mind when listing new vs. used vehicles.

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The primary difference usually centers on price. On a used unit, a dealership can advertise closer to what the unit might sell for, because the manufacturer does not require the store to advertise the MSRP. In addition, a used unit is guaranteed in-stock, because it’s physically at the store for sale. With new units, the actual unit may not be available in the store, as it may need to be shipped. With the current low inventories and supply chain disruptions, it’s important to advertise on your site how new model availability may be affected.

Furthermore, used vehicles require more photos displayed on the listing than new ones do, since they will show the actual state of the vehicle. Couple these photos with condition and reconditioning reports. After all, with a new unit, there’s a trust between the consumer and dealer that there will be no defects, and if there is one, the manufacturer’s warranty guarantees a free fix. With used vehicles, however, noting any scratches or falls the vehicle has had is critical to building trust with the consumer. If you put in the effort to show customers these extra details, it will make them that much more comfortable with purchasing a used vehicle from you.

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In the end, you get what you give in terms of information. If you display all the details a customer would find useful, ask the right questions and utilize the answers you are given, not only will you save your customers and salespeople time, but you’ll also enhance the experience, making it that much more likely that a customer will return — even if it means paying a higher price at your store than at a competitor’s.

Brenner concludes, “Let’s save time. If we can get everything [done ahead of time] — then when you get in the store all you have to do is talk about the product, which is so much fun. … Then it’s a better experience no matter what.”

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