This post was previously published in an earlier edition of Drive Time.
The pandemic continues to shift automotive buying to online, with more consumers warming up to the convenience and safety of shopping from home.
A recent survey by Invoca of over 500 U.S. adults found 13% had made automotive purchases online before March 2020. That jumped significantly to 28% making automotive purchases online after March 2020.
“That’s tremendous growth, and it goes to show you that, despite the fact that car sales have predominantly taken place in person, the auto industry was prepared with at least a functional online experience for consumers,” Invoca CMO Dee Anna McPherson tells DriveTime.
Pre-pandemic familiarity was definitely a factor, with 71% choosing auto brands they have bought before, according to the study.
Overall, consumers have high expectations of their online experience. A third of shoppers say that when a website doesn’t make pricing easy to find, they choose a different brand, while 16% pick up the phone to call and 12% will opt for a live chat.
Almost half of those surveyed say even when businesses open up fully, they plan to continue making these high-stakes purchases online, McPherson says.
“Brands should not simply transfer their operations online — they need to have their digital long game figured out,” she says. “They should provide online shoppers easy access to expert assistance via phone or live chat; enable customer service agents to deliver a positive experience; and use insights from these conversations with online shoppers to improve the digital experience.”
Despite already making digital shopping advances, the pandemic caught the auto industry off guard.
“It goes without saying, but to a certain degree we all had to do a little reshuffling as offices, businesses and stores closed for the first time in such an unprecedented way,” McPherson says. “The auto industry was certainly not immune to this change, especially when you consider that so much of their work is done in-person.
"How do you buy a car? You go to a dealership. You interact with a dealer. When businesses shut down, the auto industry, just like so many others, had to figure out how to sell cars entirely online and over the phone."
Marketers in all industries need to understand that consumer expectations have changed as a result of the pandemic, she says.
“But especially in industries like automotive, where so much of the business relies on human interaction — for research, to understand features, to negotiate on pricing — marketers need to imbue their online experiences with human touch points,” McPherson says. “If prices are hard to find, if information isn’t easy to come by, people will leave your website and go to another brand.”
Half of those surveyed said they would be likely or very likely to pick up the phone to call if a website experience wasn’t satisfactory.
“So dealerships need to have people ready to answer, with information at hand, to close the deal,” she says. “Or, take this: eight in 10 people said that even just having the phone number displayed prominently on the website, so they’d know who to call should they run into issues, made them feel more confident in their purchase. That’s a change any team can make this week."