One of the most significant changes that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought about in the car sales industry is a shift away from traditional sales channels towards online-only purchasing.
For companies such as Cazoo, Cinch and Carzam, all of which have built their businesses on high-volume, online-only sales platforms, the paradigm shift couldn’t have come at a better time, especially when dealerships were closed and the online disruptors were able to offer contact-free, hassle free delivery services.
But despite this, a lot of the more traditional dealerships have maintained a steady trade, helped in no small part by loyal returning customers as well as an aftersales offering that the online sector can’t match.
Matt Gill, who is the operations director for Eden Motor Group, which has 24 dealerships across the south and south-west of England, believes that this change in customer-buying behaviour has accelerated change within traditional dealerships.
‘Customers’ acceptance of online sales has increased massively in the past two years,’ he told Car Dealer. ‘But this was something that was already happening.
‘If anything, the pandemic has accelerated that, and in terms of our customers, what we’re tending to see now are people who come to the dealership already with full knowledge of what they’re going to buy.
‘The role of our sales people is to give them the affirmation they need, to let them know that they’ve made the right choice.
‘We also find that, particularly with the used side of the business, some customers will come to us with quotes they’ve got from online retailers asking us if we can match them.
‘In reality, we can usually meet them at a price that’s very close, and because the transaction remains a physical one, the customer is able to see their car before it’s bought, request any minor problems to be ironed out, and know that they have somewhere to bring it back to, to solve any problems should they occur.
‘It’s this aftersales offer that remains the absolute stand-out for a traditional physical dealership as it provides peace of mind to the customer.’
Indeed, to Eden and many other franchised dealerships, it brings an opportunity of its own.
‘One thing we are already seeing is customers who bought cars from online retailers coming to us for servicing or repairs because Eden is the local franchise for whatever brand of car they bought,’ said Gill.
‘Sometimes, the owner feels a little awkward because they didn’t buy it from us in the first place but that’s no problem to us at all.
‘We’re more than happy to take on the service and repair work and build a relationship with that customer, because when they come to replace that digitally purchased car three or four years down the line, they will have built up a rapport with us and will consider us when they buy their next car.’
Where the online competitors have really made traditional dealers change their game, though, is in the digital space.
One of the beauties of platforms such as Carzam, Cazoo and Cinch is that they’re so user-friendly.
You log on, you tell them what type of car you’re after and your budget, and within minutes they give you a range of options for second-hand cars that can be delivered to your front door complete with warranty.
It’s an enticing offer and one that has seen all three of the major players increase their sales exponentially over the past two years. But the traditional dealers are catching up.
‘Two years ago, our online sales offering was below par,’ admitted Gill. ‘But now it has the same functionality as our online-only rivals.
‘You can find a car, order it, pay for it, finance it and get an accurate valuation for your part-ex trade-in all in the same place and we can deliver it too.
‘So in many respects, the franchise dealerships are fighting back and beating the so-called disruptors at their own game. We have more to offer.’
This feature appears in issue 167 of Car Dealer, along with news, views, reviews and much more! To read and download it for free, click here.