With the roadmap tentatively laid out to a return to some kind of normality, dealerships across the UK have been looking forward to reopening their doors and welcoming back customers.
But competition will be fierce and frantic. The reopening will also feed aftersales opportunities – the chance to sell accessories or paint protection products such as Autoglym LifeShine.
Those opportunities have been tougher than usual in recent trading conditions and they’re a great source of commission for dealers.
The industry is expecting a wave of pent-up demand to give sales a much-needed boost, especially as economic confidence returns post-lockdown.
According to What Car?, almost 60 per cent of car buyers have decided to change their purchase plans after the government’s roadmap announcement, with strong pent-up demand that could carry on to ‘at least June’.
Meanwhile, 43 per cent are looking to buy a new vehicle within three months.
And it’s the dealerships that took advantage of the latest lockdown to tidy up their sites that look set to draw people in.
Steve Forster, operations director of a well-known dealer group in north-east England, said: ‘We’ve given our sites a bit of a spruce-up during lockdown.
‘With no customers coming through the doors, we’ve been able to get work carried out, rearrange our layout, add an extra franchise and increase the vehicle footprint of our showroom.
‘We’re looking forward to inviting our customers back to see the changes and offer them a wider choice of new and used cars as a result.’
It’s not just new car dealerships that have seen changes either.
Chris Johns, a sales manager at used car site Carworld in Peterborough, is of the view that presentation is everything when it comes to getting new customers through the door.
‘Just because people are buying used doesn’t mean they accept a budget experience.
‘So we make a point of giving them a showroom experience, with clean cars, plenty of indoor viewing space, coffee and tea, and a friendly welcome,’ he said.
‘We think that will be the big difference when we open up again, compared to other sites that are little more than yards full of cars.
‘People expect more, and lockdown has given us the chance to make sure the site looks as good as it can so we can offer more.’
Car Dealer founder James Baggott said: ‘The key to successful automotive retail is to stand out above the rest. The ones that make the biggest effort will get the best reward.
‘Our research always tells us that the customer experience is one of the single biggest factors in converting a sale. Make the experience good for the customer and they’ll want to buy from you.’
Auto Trader, meanwhile, reported that used car prices in February were up 6.6 per cent on the same month last year, making it the 11th month of consecutive price growth in the used car market.
What’s more, volumes of buyers on Auto Trader point to growing interest from buyers looking to change their vehicle.
Visitor numbers to Auto Trader were up 32.9 per cent on the same (pre-lockdown) period in 2020, with average daily users topping 1.4 million.
‘The car sales market is alive and well,’ added Baggott.
‘The key for any dealer now will be to attract that pent-up demand from customers to buy from them and not a rival, and a lot of that is down to their presentation and attitude.
‘After months of uncertainty, we’re looking at months of opportunity.’
This feature appears in the current edition of Car Dealer. To read more like it and plenty more, click on the magazine below.