There’s no question — the Internet has changed the used car business.
In the not-so-distant past, used vehicle shoppers did their research at dealerships. They visited several stores to find cars that fit their driving needs and preferences, prices to match their budget and salespeople they felt they could trust.
Today, of course, used vehicle buyers comb the Internet to satisfy this used vehicle transaction trifecta. In a few clicks, they can ascertain available vehicles, get a sense of the market for specific cars and check out online reviews and ratings to determine the dealer (or specific salesperson) best suited for their business.
By the time many of these buyers visit a dealership, they’re pretty much past the point of kicking tires. They’re looking to close a deal on the car they found online — unless they encounter a reason not to make the purchase.
This new retailing dynamic begs two key questions: What are the issues or items an Internet-informed buyer might encounter that could undo what’s largely a done deal? And what can dealers do to ensure their sales teams don’t turn a prime prospect into a missed opportunity?
I believe the answers to both questions lie in the mix of transparency and technology a growing number of dealers are using in their used vehicle sales processes to affirm and validate what their customers have already found online. In essence, these dealers are saying, “If the road to a sale starts online, we must make it continue from the showroom to the curb.”
Here’s a look at how dealers blend transparency and technology to meet the three fundamental needs of every used vehicle buyer:
1. Satisfaction with the vehicle.
Today’s online buyers land on a used vehicle for a reason, and it’s usually something specific about that car that catches their interest (in addition to price). At some dealerships, the initial rapport-building with customers is focused solely on understanding the factors that led customers to a specific vehicle. With this knowledge, sales teams use mobile and desktop tools to call attention to specific equipment / options, condition, mileage, ownership history, third-party ratings / reviews and other factors that affirm and validate each vehicle’s unique story in the context of a buyer’s wants and needs. For some customers, this part of the sales process may be perfunctory, but it’s a primary step that puts the buyer’s preferences, and the car, in the best possible light.
2. Satisfaction with the deal.
Dealers who proactively price their used vehicles to meet the market find that they don’t need to spend as much time as they used to justifying a unit’s asking price. For them, a presentation of real-time market and third-party comparisons of available cars / prices effectively validates what buyers already know — the unit’s asking price represents a fair deal in the context of the broader market. This blend of technology and transparency also helps these dealers hold gross when customers ask for discounts. “Our customers know we aren’t playing pricing games, and that’s exactly what we tell customers who want to negotiate our prices,” a Midwest dealer says. “It’s a rare day when we allow a discount and, if we do, it’s never more than $100 to $200.”
3. Satisfaction with the dealership.
Just as they research a vehicle’s pricing online, today’s online used vehicle buyers take similar steps to determine what it’s like to buy a car at your dealership. This makes it absolutely essential for dealers to actively court online reviews and testimonials from customers — and use the positive feedback in your sales presentation and process to make the case why “it’s better to buy here than from another dealership.” I’m told that it’s more powerful to show rather than tell this story with customers. “We go right online and show what other customers are saying about us,” the Midwest dealer says. “A lot of times, the customers will say, ‘I know. The reviews are why I came here today.’”
In many ways, the Internet has brought a great deal of clarity to the used car business. Online buying behavior tells us what factors matter most to today’s buyers, and it gives every dealer a framework to craft a technology- and transparency-minded sales process that boosts confidence on both sides of the sales desk.