Now and Beyond COVID-19: At-Home Vehicle Shopping, Sales and Service

May 18, 2020
Kevin LeSage, Director of Digital Marketing, Autotrader

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

COVID-19 has forced the automotive industry to shift business strategies at an unprecedented rate to meet consumer needs. Seemingly overnight, Americans received shelter-in-place orders and non-essential businesses were mandated to close their doors. But consumers are still looking for their next cars, using at-home shopping tools; in fact, website traffic is up on Autotrader by 25% year over year1. For you and your staff, I know that this has meant drastic adjustments to your business, marketing plans and future sales strategy.

Photo of Kevin LeSage, Director of Digital Marketing at Autotrader

As I talk with dealers across the country and with colleagues in the auto industry, I’m hearing a lot of common themes, goals and concerns. We’re all busy adjusting to what’s happening right now, but we’re also looking to predict and prepare for what comes next after Coronavirus.

At Autotrader, our focus over the past weeks has been developing and providing you tools to help bring your dealership experience directly to a consumer’s front door. With our new Dealer Home Services, nearly 12,000 dealerships are advertising the at-home services they offer, including video vehicle walkarounds, at-home test drives, home delivery and maintenance from home. Now as Autotrader and visitors shop and select a dealership, they can identify the dealerships that offer the at-home services they’re looking for.

I know that adjusting sales and service processes is a huge task. The good news is that contactless vehicle sales and service is not just a solution for current times. At-home vehicle sales and services are the foundation for a long-term marketing and sales strategy that will allow for a more effective sales process for your staff and consumers. So, let’s talk about a few key themes.

Taking your dealership to their doorstep in three key areas

From initial at-home shopping steps to the video vehicle walkaround

DID YOU KNOW? Autotrader has seen chat and texts increase more 150% year over year2. Learn more about our Chat and Text tool to supplement Dealer Home Services.

Like you, we’ve had to figure out how to connect with and support our clients remotely, using any methods we can get our hands on, from phone to text to video calls. And we know that Autotrader dealers are seeing more text and chat messages and leaning on other virtual communication tools to keep sales moving. Many dealers start messaging with a customer via chat, text and digital retailing tools, making sure they provide thorough answers to initial questions, and then move to a live conversation to seal the deal.

It’s no secret that video-chatting apps like FaceTime, Skype and Zoom have surged in use and become great options for essential conversations that would normally happen at the dealership. Video chat gives associates an opportunity to review the vehicle features, negotiate deal terms and answer outstanding consumer questions like they normally would in person.

One area where video chat really stands out is the vehicle walkaround! Through a personalized video-chat Vehicle Walkaround, you can give shoppers a real feel for the vehicle and foster a personal connection, in much the same way you would on the lot. Check out this recent post for some specific ideas for a great live-video walkaround and to find out how Dealer Home Services tools can help you promote it.

Using test drive at home for remote sales

“From our store to your door” is a key theme these days, so once you build the relationship with consumers and select the ideal vehicle virtually, the next key step in effective remote sales is the test drive. It’s one of the most important aspects of the sale for a shopper, but some prefer not having the pressure of a sales rep looking over their shoulder while in the driver’s seat.

With Test Drive at Home, many dealerships are taking a car to a consumer’s driveway for a test drive, so they can get a feel for whether the vehicle meets their everyday needs. This no-obligation service not only builds trust, but allows a more relaxed environment for the potential buyer. If you’re offering test drives or looking to do so soon, don’t miss our tips for at-home test drives, including how to promote test drives from home with Autotrader Dealer Home Services tools.

So, you’ve successfully executed a video walkaround and test drive at home, now what?

The last step of the sales process is of course always finalizing paperwork and handing over the keys. Traditionally, you or your staff get the car “sale ready,” while the buyer inks the deal. After a few hours in the dealership, the car buyer drives the new vehicle off the lot.

Of course, for many shoppers, that’s simply not possible today. And others just aren’t interested in spending an afternoon at the dealership, regardless of their local regulations. That’s why many dealers are quickly working to get up and running with contactless signing and Local Home Delivery. Fully contactless car shopping and sales is essential right now, and it will continue to be an important option, even after everyone’s out and about again.  If you’re offering it, make sure you’re promoting everywhere you can: on your Autotrader and listings, on your website, and in all of your advertising channels.

Solve for today and tomorrow

While COVID-19 has increased the popularity of touchless sales and service, this new, convenient norm will continue beyond this pandemic. This isn’t just a point in time; it’s a trend that will continue.

So, providing consumers with home shopping and buying services and showcasing those services with Video Walkaround, Test Drive from Home, Local Home Delivery and Maintenance from Your Door badging on your listings through Dealer Home Services and in all your advertising couldn’t be more important. Together, we’ll help drive awareness of your at-home services, create a better shopping experience and ensure that your team can sell effectively, not only during this time, but well into the future.

We’re here to help. Please reach out to your local consultant. Ask questions, talk through new ideas and strategies, tackle challenges together, and let us know how we can help you succeed.

1*Cox Automotive and Autotrader site data, 2020

2*Cox Automotive and Autotrader site data, 2020