The retail business model is facing massive disruption from online technology giants Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon. In general, car dealerships face less competition from online marketing and sales than other types of retailers. Nevertheless, the automotive retail landscape is changing. Car dealerships and OEMs are uniquely positioned to get in front of the curve and shape the future of the automotive retail industry for generations.
In my view, the key to current and future success in automotive retail is creating frictionless transactions. Convenience is paramount to consumers today and the strategies adopted by companies like PayPal and Uber are applicable in the automotive retail industry as well. At Paragon Honda, the technological changes we have implemented have already made a massive impact: in 2016 we set a global record for all-time sales of Honda Certified Pre-Owned vehicles.
“Convenience is paramount to consumers today, and the strategies adopted by companies like PayPal and Uber are applicable in the automotive retail industry as well”
Our online platform, Paragon Direct, allows customers to arrange a test-drive, purchase a car, and schedule vehicle service. The mobile interface looks and functions much like an app, so customers have everything at their fingertips without needing to download an app.
Offering Seamless Service
In the past few decades, independent automotive service centers have proliferated because dealerships lack capacity and are inconvenient for the customer. In the traditional service model, a customer must bring their car to the dealership for service. We offer the option of picking up the vehicle from the customer’s location, bringing it to our service center, and then returning it to the customer within 24 hours. Our online portal and app include tracking technology, so with just a few taps on a smartphone the customer knows exactly when the car will be picked up and returned.
Because of this innovation we are able to service cars 24 hours a day. We can pick up a vehicle in the evening when it is not being used, service it overnight, and return it to the customer’s garage by morning. Servicing cars at night, during a time when we previously had unused capacity, has allowed us to expand significantly.
Substituting Intelligence for Advertising
Our customers are sophisticated consumers. The better we understand them—their wants and needs, their likes and dislikes, their habits and behaviors—the more effectively we can communicate with them. This translates to fewer resources expended on advertising, which for most dealerships is expensive, ineffective, and unsustainable.
Through artificial intelligence, we can develop the ability to learn more about our customers and anticipate their desires, making it possible to deliver the right message at the right time. Creating a frictionless sales experience serves the customer and us by maximizing our time. When we share the things they are most interested in, at both the OEM and dealer levels, they are more likely to make a purchase.
Maintaining the Human Touch
We are looking at integrating voice technology with our existing strategies. Car retail is one of the few businesses that still require human contact. A car is, for most customers, a major purchase and more than a purely transactional experience. Online car sales will grow and expand, but I don’t see the future of car sales limited to that arena.
Employees must be able to make connections with customers and use technology as a tool to enhance the interaction. Communication is a key element of the sales process. Genuinely kind employees improve that process for the customer.
In addition, social media accounts must be managed by digitally savvy employees. We have a blog and engage daily on Twitter and Instagram, staying in constant communication with our community of customers and prospective customers, and sharing things that matter to them.
Tracking Customer Satisfaction
We use technology to follow up and ask questions after every transaction in sales and service. Our team analyzes any transaction that rates as less than a favorable review. We look for trends and then adjust internally.
A dealer’s website and mobile app can be an introduction not just to its cars but to its entire brand. The overall customer experience, from initial search to purchase to service needs, is an integral part of that brand. Paragon customers know that when they purchase a Honda or Acura from our dealership, they are buying more than just a car. They are also gaining access to the ease and convenience we offer. Dealers and OEMs are in a unique position to shape and change the industry together and ensure our collective, continued success.