Over the past 15 years or so the Internet has profoundly changed the automotive shopping process, I’m predicting that the changes to the automotive buying process will occur twice as rapidly and will be twice as disruptive to the industry.
The shopping process takes the majority of your customer’s time, while the buying process is actually much more important – to both the customer and the dealership. Now major industry players like AutoNation, Sonic, and CarMax are rapidly moving to a more “transactional” web presence. In short, the major players are moving from mere shopping on the web to buying on the web. That doesn’t mean buying a car 100% online, it means allowing the customer to choose which functions of the sales process they want to complete online.
My sense is the winners and losers in the business, five years from now, will be predicated by how well they assist buyers slipping from the online experience into the physical experience – and perhaps back again. For instance, one buyer may have a question about his credit; traditionally a dealership will do everything in their power to get him in to the store and start them down the “Road to the Sale”. The winning stores five years from now (or sooner), will be able to step in to not just answer the question, but to also the update the customer’s deal information online, allowing the customer more control over their individual process.
I can hear the naysayers out there; the car sale is incredibly complex, trades, credit problems, negotiation and the like will stand in the way of this. But I say to the naysayers, you’ll be judged on how well you solve these issues, not on how much you defend the practices of today.