Adapting to changing consumer preferences in today’s unique selling environment

Posted by Meg Bernazzani on August 21, 2020

Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, car dealers were already facing questions about what the future of the industry would look like. With consumers’ preferences changing and advancements in digital retailing strategies continuing to be made, many have been at least starting to think about tactics like online financing and home delivery. But the current health crisis has accelerated many of these trends, and today’s dealers must adapt to a new normal.

Like most businesses across the country, dealers have been taking more proactive steps to ensure consumers’ safety at the dealership, rearranging showroom layouts to support social distancing, increasing cleaning measures, and more. According to CarGurus COVID-19 Sentiment Study, among current prospective buyers, top expectations for dealer visits to purchase or service a vehicle include:

  • 73% wipe down surfaces regularly
  • 63% employees wear facemasks
  • 60% transparency about the steps they take to address cleanliness
  • 58% adhere to social distancing guidelines
  • 53% contactless drop-off and pick-up vehicle service
  • 52% customers wear facemasks

Those who haven’t yet made a purchase tend to be more cautious than those who bought during the peak of the pandemic. Buyers who purchased during the months when Covid was at its peak were less concerned and more urgent than those who haven’t yet purchased. In particular, they were 30% less likely to expect employees to wear facemasks, 24% less likely to expect dealers to wipe down surfaces regularly, and 3x more likely to say their purchase was very or extremely urgent.

Though most shoppers expect measures to be taken to make the in-store experience safer, more than half (61%) would prefer to limit their time at the dealership using contactless services. This includes services such as virtual appointments, at-home test drives, and home delivery.

It’s important to note that these aren’t short-term changes: 37% of respondents said the pandemic will impact how they shop long-term. Additionally, both openness and preference for buying online roughly doubled as a result of the pandemic. Before, 32% of car shoppers were open to buying online. Today, that number is at 60%. The percentage of people who prefer buying online is only about 37%. While that’s not a majority, the trend continues to accelerate and is something dealers must keep in mind for the future.

There’s no doubt that the current selling environment will continue to evolve as attitudes and preferences keep changing. To succeed in today’s new normal, dealers will need to identify processes and services they can adopt to help meet consumers’ expectations and increase convenience in a post-Covid world.

Topics: consumer sentiment, covid-19, industry insights