With COVID-19 accelerating the automotive industry toward digital retailing, many dealerships are focusing on online car buyers. According to Allied Market Research, the online car buying market was valued at $237.93 billion in 2020 and is expected to grow to $722.79 billion by 2030. That’s huge. 

But it takes more than a website to offer a compelling online purchasing process. In fact, automotive digital retailing is fraught with breakpoints where customers abandon their journeys. In this article, we’ll cover nine different problems dealerships face and how asynchronous messaging offers an opportunity to enhance the digital retailing experience.

9 Automotive Digital Retail Breakdowns

Customers can and do drop out of the digital retail process at many points during their purchase journey. almost any point. They could get a bad first impression from outsourced chat, have confusion around their trade-in value, or have to keep starting over as they are passed around to multiple people at the dealership. Here are some examples of breakdowns in the automotive digital retail journey.

1. Bad First Impression

It’s important to set the tone with a good first impression when customers reach out to your dealership online. But is a lead form the best way to start the relationship? Right up front, you’re asking for their personal information without providing any value yet. Instead, modern brands have been moving away from forms and are looking for ways to engage the active shopper in a conversation.

Also, many dealerships don’t greet customers cohesively across multiple channels like chat, email, social, and messaging. First-time customers are often greeted with “We will get back to you,” even during business hours. Many dealership website tools just exist to generate leads and transfer details into the CRM for follow-up. The norm for dealerships is fragmented communication. Multiple people give customers different experiences with different tools of communication.

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Dealerships that rely on outsourced automotive live chat to assist customers in digital retailing can only do so much. If a client needs to know anything beyond the basics like store hours, they’ll be put on a callback list. This friction can be hard to overcome. If you aren’t able to have a valuable conversation the first time, how likely do you think the shopper is to pick up the phone when you call back?

2. Unanswered Questions

It takes many steps to complete an entire vehicle purchase online. From browsing inventory and comparing specs to checking auto loan options, there are many times when people need help. Hopefully, customers can reach out and talk to the right staff member and get their questions answered, but this is not always the case. 

To build trust, it’s important to catch customers at a critical time in their decision process and solve their problems then, not later. The goal is to interact with customers when the decision is on their minds, and not later when it is convenient for you to call back.

Remember, digital retailing is very new to the automotive world considering its history. Successful automotive retailing happens when a salesperson and customer can collaborate. Over the last century, this collaboration has mostly happened with in-store sales in the showroom because of its complexity. 

Vehicle selection, trade valuation, negotiation, financing, plus additional edge-case scenarios like cosigners, financing stipulations, and more all require a conversation and interaction to work through successfully. Digital retailing is a great start to the complexities of auto industry retailing but it isn’t 100% there yet.

Guide Your Customers To Avoid Friction

When a client isn’t able to find an answer in their time frame (Golden Hour), this friction can make them abandon the process altogether. Will they pick it up later from one of your competitors that offers better digital retailing tools? If you want to increase online car sales, it’s important to guide your customers along the entire car buying process. 

3. Trade-In Value Confusion

Another sticking point in the digital retailing experience is when a trade-in value doesn’t match what the customer expects. While your customers may get an estimate on your own website, they can also check competitors like Carvana, Vroom, or CarMax for valuations. 

Say a client goes through your online form and gets an appraisal that is $2,000 lower than their CarMax appraisal and $2,150 less than their Carvana appraisal. They are just shopping around, so they don’t want to go into a dealer yet. But they still want to know about the difference. This is why catching people in the act is far better than trying to follow up after the fact. 

Messaging Can Build Trust

You can use asynchronous messaging to explain the difference and help build a no-pressure relationship with the customer. Maybe your trade-in estimator is more detailed or takes local prices into account. These are the things the customer would want to know. 

With asynchronous messaging, your salesperson could invite your used car manager seamlessly into the conversation with the consumer to ask additional questions. Or, the salesperson could even start a video call and have the customer show their vehicle in closer detail. After that, the manager could re-evaluate the price offered and then leave the conversation enabling the customer and salesperson to continue with an agreed-upon established trade-in value.

4. Fear of Sharing Personal Information

Your customers have to share sensitive personal information to buy a car or check their financing options, but they may be apprehensive to do this in a random form on the internet without speaking with someone first. Many customers need reassurance through conversation before they would feel comfortable entering their employment information or social security number for financing. Here’s a scenario to illustrate this issue. 

Car Shoppers Need Reassurance

Someone that has poor credit may know they won’t get the lowest payment or interest rate advertised on your site. In fact, most offers advertised online probably don’t apply to them. So they know they need to run their credit to see what their real payments would be.

Of course, the shopper doesn’t want to ding their credit if the car isn’t available. Or, they could want reassurance that they could potentially qualify instead of facing the unnecessary disappointment of denied credit. When customers have these concerns, you could either meet them where they are and offer reassurance or drop the ball and lose the lead. 

Asynchronous messaging meets the client at their point of concern or friction area. Consumers can have their issues heard and addressed at any point from prequalification to a full credit application and right through messaging in a rich and interactive experience. Along the way, all the necessary documents can be uploaded in the digital retailing platform for the purchaser to meet the requirements and sign paperwork.

5. Lack of Information

When customers have questions, you need to be able to answer them. It’s a simple concept but it can often be hard to uphold in digital retailing. When questions go unanswered, the customer may feel like you’re keeping information from them or don’t think they are a serious enough lead to bother with. 

Digital retailing, though sophisticated, can’t possibly answer every question from every purchase scenario. Human engagement is still an indispensable part of the sales process. Dealerships may use chat to provide engagement, but outsourced chat fails to get the job done. This is why giving your team the right tool to engage the shopper and completely answer their questions is the best path for modern retailing. 

Three Chat Scenarios

Let’s say a client sends a message on chat that reads, “I see you have a Toyota Tundra listed for $36,965 online, do you have any discounts on this model?” There are a few possibilities depending on how chat is set up.

  • Chatbot: A chatbot won’t be able to answer questions about the car online. It will simply ask for the customer’s information and add them to a callback list. Not very fulfilling for the customer.
  • Outsourced chat: An outsourced agent will also not be able to answer the question and will ask for their contact information. They ask questions like, “What’s your name?” And, “What is the best number to reach you in case we are disconnected?” These questions are focused on lead generation while the customer is focused on whether or not they want to buy from you.
  • Live chat: If the client gets a live salesperson at your dealership during business hours, that’s the best scenario. Even in this case, the client may simply leave after getting their answer without giving any information. Live chat forces people to always be available and that isn’t realistic in many dealerships.

Sometimes, a client might get through to a salesperson, but the salesperson doesn’t give them an answer. They might just tell them to come to the dealer in person to find out about deals. Not giving a straight answer can still feel like gatekeeping for the customer.

Another common scenario is that dealerships use business development centers to handle their live chat channel. The agent at the center is only trained to answer some basic questions and set appointments for the dealership. And the chat software they use may be limited in scope, so they can’t access all the necessary information, either.

Offer Full Information

This is where asynchronous messaging comes in handy. You can add an additional teammate into the same conversation at the same time to keep the customer at the center. Or you could tell the customer you need time to get the information and the customer will be notified when you have the answer. 

Asynchronous messaging enables the shopper to start a conversation similar to how they engage with people in their personal lives on Facebook, Linkedin, Whatsapp, or Instagram. It also sets an upfront expectation of how long it will take for the dealership to respond. The customer can continue to do whatever they want knowing they will be notified when their answer is posted for their review.

6. Forced Instant Rapport

Building rapport with automotive customers is essential for digital retailing, but it’s much harder to build rapport through remote communication like phone, email, and live chat than face-to-face. A live chat session may last a few minutes at best. Right away, the salesperson is forced to try to build rapport in these few short minutes. This is not possible. Live chat forces an unnatural and condensed experience for both the shopper and chat representative since it happens in real-time. When the chat ends, there’s no way for the client to pick the conversation back up in the same channel.

Dealership digital retailing is often a fragmented experience for customers. They don’t know who they’re talking with through chat, and email is also impersonal. When the chat rep can’t answer a customer’s question, the rep ends the chat and forwards their information to the dealer, causing another breakage point in the process. Getting a sales call out of the blue can catch customers off guard. And in most cases, it isn’t as convenient a time as it was when the customer first sought out the information.

Dealership Messaging Builds Report Naturally

Dealership messaging allows customers to take their time and get to know the salesperson they are working with. Messaging is asynchronous, which means it doesn’t happen in real-time. Messaging creates a safe, collaborative environment that allows the client to interact with information and communicate when they have the time. 

A continuous messaging conversation is a much better way to build rapport digitally than chat or fragmented emails and phone calls. Plus, this is how we operate in our personal lives and even in our work lives since remote working increased because of COVID-19.

7. Duplicate Conversations for the Customer

Customers can contact dealerships in multiple ways, like by using Facebook messenger, live chat, email, and more. It’s good to let customers engage in different ways, but this means communication can cross paths, sometimes. And unless you can see the entire conversation in one place, you will always have misunderstandings and data loss across communication channels and platforms.

A client could ask a question on social media, then send an email about a more in-depth issue, and then later open a chat on your website to ask something else. Do they talk to the same person each time? Probably not. Without a unified digital retailing solution, the client might have to repeat themselves to different people. 

Asynchronous Messaging Unifies Digital Retailing

Asynchronous messaging solves this issue. A dealership messaging application can synchronize with other channels like social to keep all the information in one place. The customer and dealership staff can switch devices and access the same conversation each time.

8. Duplicate Leads for the Dealership

Offering online widgets and tools isn’t the same as offering a seamless experience. Unfortunately, the current automotive landscape is stuck in the first camp, not the second. Dealership websites are nothing more than a host of plugged-in products from payment widgets, credit forms, trade value offers, pre-approval offers, vehicle information tools, and more.

When a client enters some of their information online, the CRM takes it and adds them to a call list. Next, they get a call, email, or text from a salesperson who only has basic information about them. The process basically starts over at that point and dismisses anything the client did online. This creates unnecessary friction in the age of asynchronous messaging.

Since many dealership websites lack clear instructions or unified customer communication, it’s not uncommon for dealerships to get three or four leads from the same person as they try to navigate the digital experience. Multiple leads can happen when someone completes a few steps online, leaves, and then comes back later. There’s no way for them to pick up where they left off. 

Clogging up the CRM with duplicate leads can cause multiple salespeople from the dealership to all try to interact with a single customer. Add to that automated CRM programs that fire off communication and you create a brute force engagement experience for the average automotive shopper.

9. Finance Options Don’t Match Promises

Financing is another point where dealers can lose customers in the digital retailing experience. It can be a problem when the finance options don’t match the monthly payments or interest rates that shoppers expect to see. Many digital retailing systems don't offer a flexible experience, either. They require the customer to select a car first or value their trade before they can start the financial option journey. Even the platforms that do allow the customer to start where they want are missing the conversation needed to complete an automotive purchase.

Perhaps someone on staff said they could keep the customer’s payment under a certain amount or that they could find a particular rate. But when the customer completes a full credit application, the promised monthly payment or rate isn’t available. 

If the customer is at the dealership, the finance manager can explain what happened and go over their options. But it’s much harder to deal with these issues online or over the phone. 

Empowering Your Team With Messaging

Dealership messaging can help when customers have these concerns. Customers can access a seamless conversation thread as sales and finance staff move in and out to offer help at the right times. Instead of receiving an email from one person and a call from another, messaging unifies the conversation and allows staff to send all forms and documents inside the thread.

Since different people can enter and exit the conversation, the customer stays at the center of the experience. This is in contrast to a traditional digital experience that requires the customer to contact different people with different threads or conversations. Ultimately, asynchronous messaging is customer-centric and builds trust and delivers results.

How To Improve the Automotive Digital Sales Experience

Improving the digital retailing experience is crucial for independent and franchised dealerships to stay in the game and thrive. Customers today want to sit on their couch and find out exactly what they’d pay for a specific vehicle. The problem is many customers just pick the easiest online experience, and local dealerships often lose out. To improve the online customer experience, consider the following.

Harmonize Communication Channels

Omni-channel communication should be supported by one digital retailing platform that can unify the conversation for the customer. They shouldn’t have to repeat themselves, and you shouldn’t have to re-enter information as they move through different phases of the purchase journey.

Answer Customer Questions

A messaging platform allows you to answer questions whenever they come up. The right person can enter the conversation at any time, whether that’s a salesperson on the lot or a finance manager. It also creates a natural back-and-forth cadence that allows the shopper and dealership team to interact without pressure yet continue to move the deal forward toward the sale.

Make the Digital Retail Experience Seamless

As you minimize friction between different steps of the purchase journey, your customer will have a smooth ride from window shopping all the way to vehicle purchase. The ultimate goal is to allow them to complete as little or as much of their purchase experience online as possible. 

Conclusion: How Asynchronous Messaging Can Support Auto Retailing

Asynchronous messaging allows traditional dealerships to compete with the big online sales players. Asynchronous conversations allow sales staff to build rapport in a natural way and walk with them step-by-step through the digital process. 

Reach out to learn how QoreAI can help your dealership minimize consumer purchase breakdowns with asynchronous messaging.

Automotive Online Retailing: FAQ

What is automotive digital retailing?

Automotive digital retailing is a technology application that gives interested customers the ability to shop for and buy cars online. Various software integrations allow people to compare inventory, get a loan, add protection products, and complete a lease or purchase right from their home. They can even schedule home delivery.

What is asynchronous automotive messaging?

Asynchronous automotive messaging is a collaborative space for consumers and dealerships to interact—not in real-time. It allows dealerships to communicate with customers in a low-pressure conversation thread that is accessible from any device. The messaging platform also saves the previous history, supports multimedia, and integrates with a dealership’s CRM and other backend apps.

Who is the largest automotive retailer?

AutoNation is the largest automotive retailer by revenue in the country. The company has over 300 dealership locations and sold over $25 billion in 2021.

What is automotive wholesaling?

Automotive wholesaling is what happens when a dealership sells cars to another dealer either directly or at auction. This usually only happens when cars sit on a lot for a long time without selling.