It seems that over the past year it’s become impossible to attend any auto-related event or conference without hearing the word “disruptor.” As technology continues to progress, the industry continues to shift and adapt. These disruptions come in so many different forms: it’s not just a question of whether to take the bus or buy a car. It’s a question of whether to buy, lease, rent by hour, rent by day, co-own, or maybe rideshare. It’s no longer a question of stopping in at several dealerships and choosing one– anyone with a smartphone can research to their heart’s content anywhere anytime. Most shoppers only visit 1-2 dealerships, after conducting an average of 14 hours of research online. Even the cars themselves are different, offering features that were once the stuff of science fiction.

So how does today’s dealership keep up with automotive technology, and even use it to thrive? It’s not as hard as you think.

Disruption in how we ride

First, here’s a rundown of the disruptive trends that affect how today’s car buyers actually drive (or don’t):

  • Connectivity. Cars today have sensors and safety cameras. They have navigation systems and infotainment centers. Personal assistants are featured inside of vehicles through products like CarPlay and Android Auto. Connectivity solutions are becoming ever-more important to car shoppers, and the demand for auto apps and software is exploding.
  • Ride sharing. It is no longer necessary to own a car– or take the bus– to get around. Utilizing navigation technology, smartphones, and social media, ridesharing and ridesourcing services allow today’s travelers to hail cabs from their phones, carpool with local strangers, rent out their vehicles while not using them, or even co-own a car with a group of friends.
  • Self-driving technologies. While fully autonomous vehicles are still a few years away from hitting the streets, self-driving technologies are here and gaining traction. Vehicles featuring perks like lane correction, automatic parallel parking, and advanced cruise control are becoming more popular, and will only continue to develop in the coming year.
  • More options, more flexibility. With all the transportation options available at the touch of a smartphone button, people will choose different modes for different activities instead of relying primarily on their personal vehicle, predicts this McKinsey report.

Disruption in how we shop

Not only are people getting around differently, they are also finding and buying (or deciding not to buy) in new ways. The traditional dealership model has seen some competition from a few different directions:

  • Online car shopping. It is now possible to buy a car online, without ever entering a dealership. The biggest example of this type of disruption comes in the form of Carvana. The company has been opening its “car vending machines” across the United States, enticing buyers by offering a hassle-free, salesman-less buying experience. Car shoppers can now buy a car in the same way that they buy other products: online. Though most people still like to test drive a vehicle before buying, those who don’t want to no longer have to, and solutions for home-delivery test drives are becoming more prominent.
  • Subscriptions. OEMs have begun announcing monthly subscription programs for customers who would like to avoid the hassle (and costs, of course) of buying a vehicle. This type of model is very appealing to younger shoppers who are not ready to purchase a car, but would like access to one on a semi-regular basis. Most of these programs have not been officially rolled out, but are being used in some parts of the country.
  • City type market segmentation. The report also posits that as transportation choices proliferate, car shopping markets will become more closely tied to location type than to geographic area. A city dweller might face congestion, parking difficulties, and traffic, while rural living comes with longer distances and less public transportation. All of which means two cities on opposite ends of the globe might be more similar in terms of car buyer behavior than a rural and urban area in the same region.

Did that sound like a lot? The truth is that when you look closely at these technologies and changes, a common thread emerges: a push for an easier, more convenient, more efficient, and more personalized shopping and driving experience. Drivers seek connectivity to improve the enjoyability, safety, and productivity of transportation. They shop online to eliminate hassle, work at their own pace, and make the experience relevant to their needs. They customize their transportation choices to increase convenience and affordability.

And so, while some of the changes in the auto industry reduce the necessity of personal car ownership, the heart of the technology actually speaks to a different customer need, one that dealerships are in an ideal position to provide: an improved customer experience, on and off the road. In this way, disruptive changes present new opportunities for dealerships to create a positive and customized car buying process and edge out the competition.

Your dealership and disruption

Here’s how your dealership can do what it takes to keep up with customers’ needs and bring them the positive experience they want:

  1. Jump on the rideshare bandwagon. Dealerships should embrace people’s interest in multiple methods of transportation. Create targeted ad campaigns that highlight the benefits of car ownership, as well as ones that appeal to more rideshare-focused shoppers. Consider facilitating co-ownership programs. Service departments should take care to understand the maintenance needs of drivers who rent their vehicles to others or co-own. Make it clear your dealership is not one size fits all, and is willing and eager to work with every type of customer.
  2. Have a strong digital presence. Even if they prefer to test-drive a physical car in your dealership, today’s customers expect to be able to start the shopping process online. They want to do research before coming into the dealerships and look for an easy, streamlined experience. Make sure your dealership’s website provides:
    • Relevant, helpful content
    • Highly personalized follow-up interactions
    • Ample opportunities to contact your dealership
    • Facilitated tools to understand trade in, financing, and pricing
    • Up-to-date reviews from happy customers
  3. Streamline the digital and in-person experience. Ensure that the connection between online research and in-store shopping is fluid. Setting up appointments should be simple and straightforward, and your sales teams should be prepared when internet leads come into the showroom with the person’s entire browsing history on your site, to know exactly what they are interested in. Shoppers should feel that your website is as personalized as your store, and that your store takes into account everything already completed on your website. Remember, your shoppers are looking for efficiency and productivity. Give it to them.
  4. Keep up to date with the latest technologies. Some of your customers, particularly the younger ones, are very interested in vehicles that boast the latest technologies. Your staff should be well-versed in every new feature and capability, so that they can give every customer the information they are looking for.

Use these new car solutions and their takeaways to your advantage– create the ultimate shopping experience online and in the showroom.

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