In the wake of COVID-19, Canadians have been urged to stay home based on recommendations by the World Health Organization and the Public Health Agency of Canada. In response, many Canadian dealers have had to close their in-store sales department and limit their operations to service functions. Consequently, online shopping has transitioned from an ease of convenience to a necessity, which begs the question, how will the pandemic impact the way Canadians buy cars?
While auto manufacturers have reported dips in sales, there are strong signals that buyers are still very much in market and conducting research. A third-party study by Dig Insights commissioned by autoTRADER.ca, examined the impact of COVID-19 to consumer purchase behaviour. The study revealed a slight uptick in marketplace usage among purchase intenders, with 44 per cent of intenders using the marketplace. In contrast, there was a 12 per cent decrease among vehicle intenders visiting manufacturer sites to shop for a car. In fact, just three weeks after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by WHO, autoTRADER.ca was tracking 3.8 million visits and 12 million Vehicle Detail Page views weekly generated by almost 2 million users. This represents a sizable number of online shoppers, just in a single week nationwide.
To even further understand how COVID-19 has affected consumer attitudes towards different methods of transportation, TRADER Corporation completed a separate survey of 1,000 respondents across the country. Early findings revealed that COVID-19 may have a significant impact in the way Canadians will choose to travel moving forward. Sixty-two per cent of consumers are more likely to say owning their own vehicle is more attractive than using public transportation. Moreover, consumers that were relying on rideshare programs say they are four times more likely to say owning their own vehicle is enticing. Last but certainly not least, 14 per cent of people who did not currently own a vehicle, planned on purchasing one as a direct result of COVID-19.
These results suggested car ownership could actually be more desirable post COVID-19. Transportation habits are changing and as a result, and dealers need to be available where consumers are beginning their search for a vehicle online. Car buyers are spending more time in the research phase of the transaction and there is an increased desire to complete more of the transaction online. As well, there will be many first-time vehicle purchasers who will need some extra guidance and education.
There will be two types of consumers shopping; (i) those who are looking to buy a vehicle as soon as conditions return to normal, and, (ii) those who want to get a transaction completed as soon as possible – the latter will certainly look to rely on digital retailing, while the former may be more open to it than before. In order to respond to this changing need from consumers, Canadian auto dealers have already implemented or are looking towards digital retailing platforms to integrate into their business and help Canadians complete more of the purchase journey online.
The evolution starts with simple measures, such as at home test drive drop-offs, real time live chats for a personalized experience, or emailing paperwork, to fully integrated e-commerce solutions enabling the consumer to buy a car and have it delivered, all without leaving home.
To support dealers through this transition, we recently launched the Remote Selling Suite designed to arm dealers with the tools to carry out everyday sales operations online via the autoTRADER.ca marketplace. This includes real time chat tools, VDP indicators that show how dealers can conduct business remotely and Reserve It!, an inventory tool that allows dealers to offer customers the ability to reserve a vehicle by placing a credit card deposit, until they can arrange for a safe review of the vehicle or full transaction.
Motoinsight is another example of a solutions provider helping Canadian dealers looking to activate digital retailing tools to engage consumers beyond the showroom floor. Its MotoCommerce platform allows car buyers to complete transactions, select F&I accessories, even submit a secure credit application, all from their desktop or mobile device. Moreover, the company offers full-service training and best practices to help dealerships make this operational transition as seamless as possible.
From a digital marketing standpoint, it will be important for dealers to maintain some level of exposure for their inventory during this expanded online research phase. Strong remarketing campaigns will be particularly helpful during this time. Browsing times on social media, especially on Facebook and Instagram, have increased. It is, therefore, important to have a strong retargeting strategy in place to keep dealer inventory top of mind.
With so many dealers looking to create a larger digital presence, it is important to understand how dealers can stand out. A key differentiator for consumers will be a seamless online to offline transition. It is critical for dealers to augment the process in-store to complement digital retail integration. To realize the full potential of digital retail, dealers must not only deepen their online capabilities, but more importantly ensure it works in lockstep with physical operations.
If dealerships are prepared to execute and deliver an excellent online and offline experience, there is a higher likelihood a consumer will expect and look for the same process the next time they’re in the market. Consumers adapt to change, and time and time again, dealers have learned to pivot to address these new consumer trends and market realities. Despite how challenging the outlook may initially seem, the ability to remain flexible and respond to changing environments could underscore an industry shift to providing consumers with the highest level of service ever recorded. As an industry, we have to stay optimistic and focused on the future.
– Ian MacDonald, vice-president of strategic marketing, TRADER Corporation