The world has moved to an online shopping model and automotive retailing is no exception. There’s no doubt that as we move deeper into 2022, dealerships will continue to face pressure from both traditional retail and online. As a progressive dealer, ask yourself what your biggest accomplishments have been over the past few years. What is your competitive advantage compared to other dealerships? Now ask yourself how technology and the online world has played a role in facilitating what you do well, and how you can leverage those advantages even further. For dealerships committed to improving store-wide profitability, below are five mobile app online strategies for modern automotive success.
#1. Leverage Digital Retail. Amazon is disrupting all facets of retail. Automotive is no different as Tesla has made a dramatic shift in its sales strategy by moving its sales online. While Tesla can make this move more gracefully than traditional dealerships, given that they run both manufacturing and sales themselves, traditional car dealerships can capitalize on this online buying trend and meet consumer expectations by transitioning to a digital retail experience.
As dealerships continue to play a significant role as primary channels for building personal contact and relationships with customers, they will need to adapt their sales and fixed operations’ infrastructure to a new generation of consumer preferences that necessitate a mix of physical and digital presence. Chevrolet’s “Shop•Click•Drive” is a great example of empowering buyers to research inventory online and facilitate the majority of the sale from the comfort of their desktop or mobile device. Shoppers can estimate both payment and trade-in value and review current incentives and offers, while clearly seeing pricing, costs and fees. Buyers complete the purchase process online, then schedule an appointment with the dealership to test drive, sign and take delivery of their vehicle.
Dealerships looking to take the next steps into digital retailing can consider a variety of third-party solution vendors. Shoppers can shop, configure payments and select financing options from a network of lenders. It’s all done online, on the dealer’s website. This convenient, new way of car-buying (and selling) will continue to attract more customers to dealerships and increase both conversion rates and F&I sales.
#2. Offer F&I Online. Most dealerships today are not optimizing their F&I revenue potential. This is a lost opportunity as F&I sales are one of the best ways for dealerships to satisfy consumer needs and grow store-wide profitability. Success in F&I is not about controlling the customer’s access to information; it’s about empowering customers to find and fulfill their personal needs. Customers today are accustom to having everything at their fingertips so it’s time to put them in control of their F&I research journey.
Research by Cox Automotive shows that 63 percent of consumers who conduct their research online are more likely to buy F&I products. With customer satisfaction decreasing as their time in a dealership increases, starting the F&I process online empowers dealerships to engage and collaborate with well-informed customers, even before they enter the dealership. The online experience offers an open environment where useful information and modern digital tools like videos, charts, and references help consumers to understand, appreciate and accept the value offered by F&I products. The age-old truth still stands: Customers don’t want to be sold to. Their resistance goes up once they feel they are being sold. To mitigate this sales challenge, the online F&I process must be an informative and educational experience that leads to a consultative effort once they reach the dealership, whereby the F&I manager can collaborate with the buyer in a simple conversation to match the products to their needs.
Most dealerships today stop promoting additional products once the customer drives off the lot. This is a lost opportunity as customers are likely to reconsider F&I products that they initially declined once they drive their car and experience pride of ownership. Outside the dealership, customers are in a non-threatening environment and are more open to rethinking their F&I product options. Develop an effective follow up process to reach out and stay in touch after the sale to improve product penetration and profit per sale.
#3. Sell Parts Online. According to a study by Auto Care Association, 85% of customers are using the Internet to research auto replacement parts. The size of the market is only expected to grow in the coming years. Parts Managers with an eye on the future and are interested in growing parts sales without depending on other departments should consider selling parts online as a new path to revenue growth. It’s an effective generator of incremental sales that can make money from both your existing customer base and new customers online – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. To do this requires a website, or an extension to your current website, a good fulfillment process and a marketing strategy. Start by focusing on fast-moving parts, and consider excluding categories of parts based on price point and margins.
Use text messaging and in-app push notifications to promote new parts and special offers to shoppers and customers. These communication tools are the most effective engagement channel as they produce higher response rate than email marketing as 90% of messages are read in the first three minutes. Shoppers who receive texts and push notifications have high interaction rates with 30-60% open rate and as high as 10-40% conversion rate. Dealerships can also use text and push notifications as a re-engagement strategy to dormant and inactive shoppers.
As you experiment with parts supply and a variety of marketing communications strategies, use your parts store as a springboard platform to promote your dealership’s vehicle inventory and service center to potential buyers as they come near the end of their vehicle ownership lifecycle. After shoppers have made a purchase, you can send follow-up emails, texts and personalized notifications via your mobile app. This is a great opportunity for the Parts department to foster sell-through opportunities by capturing new leads for Sales, upsell services, and improve store-wide profitability.
#4. Evolve Service Marketing. According to NADA’s Annual Research, gross profit from a dealer’s service department is up to 49 percent, compared to 45 percent since 2012. As dealerships continue to adapt to the new service experience economy, a Cox Automotive Study goes on to maintain that 74 percent of customers who serviced their vehicle with a dealership in the last 12 months will return to purchase their next vehicle from that same dealership. With growing pressure on new car sales volumes, this presents a ripe opportunity for dealers to leverage fixed operations as a principal source of retention and profitability.
In today’s ultra-connected world where every customer and shopper has a smartphone, automotive service marketing is evolving to a customer-centric mobile approach to drive long-term loyalty and maximize the critical revenue stream that is Fixed Operations. Traditionally, mass market service conquest marketing captured a few new customers, but this general approach fails to appeal to customers’ key decisions during each stage of their vehicle ownership lifecycle. As owners move into each stage of their vehicle lifecycle, their needs will change. For instance, a service special sent to new vehicle owners with warranties will fail to capture their attention, whereas second owners with vehicles that fall out of warranty will be more interested as their aging vehicles require repairs. A one-size-fits-all approach to achieving service retention will not deliver optimal results for dealerships.
Targeting the right Service customer with the right incentive at the right time in the ownership lifecycle increases the likelihood of growing share of wallet and winning the next service visit. It requires offering relevant information and promotions focused on each individual customers’ needs. As the vehicle lifecycle matures, timing and value creation helps dealerships to nurture the customer relationship resulting in a higher probability that the customer will return to purchase their next vehicle from the same dealership. For instance, offer second owners dealer-owned pre-paid maintenance and lifetime engine warranties to increase service retention. Not only do these services help generate more profit per sale, they will keep customers loyal to your service department, where you now have the opportunity to increase customer spend on additional products and services. Offering this genuine value through the customers’ choice of communications helps drive engagement with the dealership and not the delete key.
#5. Launch a Dealer Mobile App. With the ubiquity of smartphones, there are major growth opportunities for progressive dealerships to directly engage customers and prospects on their coveted smartphone. The growth in GPS technology is fueling geo-mobile marketing as one of the most effective digital strategies to generate leads, win more customers and improve service retention. A geo-mobile marketing and sales engagement app helps dealership sales and service staff to effectively connect with customers and active buyers directly through their smartphones – in the moment when they are ready to buy a vehicle or schedule a service.
As part of an integrated online strategy, a dealer mobile engagement app integrates all the online components – including digital retailing, F&I, parts and servicing – into one cohesive digital platform. Similar to geofencing, geo-mobile marketing allows dealerships to set up a virtual perimeter around their location as well as competitive stores and local after-market service shops. When customers and potential buyers pass through the perimeter, they trigger a timely and personalized message alert to their smartphone, enticing them to engage and visit the dealership. The digital call-to-action promotes participation such as take a virtual tour, view online inventory, shop for vehicles, research F&I options, schedule a service appointment, shop for parts, redeem a digital coupon, or attend a sales event.
Geo-mobile marketing goes one step further by alerting the dealer’s sales and service staff when prospects and customers are visiting a competitors’ lot, and prompts them to initiate a timely and personalized follow up based on detailed analytics on the name of the person, the dealership they’re visiting, and time of day. Timing is of the essence. With this critical insight, a geo-mobile marketing strategy helps dealerships to better connect with customers and prospects at the right moment in time during the buying journey and vehicle ownership lifecycle. Leveraging a technology-enhanced digital experience gives dealerships the opportunity to better connect with a new generation of vehicle buyers, differentiate their experience, and drive store-wide profitability.