Why Bridging the Gap is Critical for Dealers and How to Do It 

Sep 13, 2023
The Autotrader Team, Kelley Blue Book and Dealer.com

A recent study at Cox Automotive showed us something intriguing. During the car buying process, consumers visit multiple websites – 8 or 9 on average in 2022.   

What’s interesting is that despite the multiple sites they visit online, car buyers only set foot in a couple of dealerships before making their choice. So, the real question is how can how can you position your dealership to be among those chosen few?   

Dealerships that stand out understand how to seamlessly connect the purchase experience between online, to in-store, to sometimes bridging back online, always keeping the deal moving.  

There’s a big opportunity for dealers to make sure consumers have the same experience online and in person, and actually use all of the information and data collected. This saves time and headaches for both the dealer and the auto-shopper. 

Connected solutions are the key. 

In today’s market, there are endless solutions that help you connect with shoppers, which is great. They help you do business and help shoppers get what they want. In theory, it should be all happy dealers, happy consumers. A win-win across the board.  

 But the problem is, those solutions are often disconnected, leading to gaps in your ability to reach consumers and really personalize that buying experience to meet their wants and needs.   

Consumers hate it when someone is trying to sell them something, or retarget them online after a site visit, and it’s like the dealer learned nothing about them.  For example… A mom of two who lives in the Midwest is not interested in ads or marketing content on why a two-seater convertible is the perfect car for a life of fun in the sun.  

It’s not that she doesn’t like to have fun, but those two-seater days are gone, and there are only about four months of fun in the sun a year where she lives. It’s not that the marketing is bad, but it’s the opposite of what she’s looking for. It lacks personalization and it lacks what she’d want when looking for a car.  

Closing the gap with personalization:  

This type of gap in personalization is what opens consumers up for the competition to grab. When you don’t show that you know what your consumer wants, needs and prefers, someone else will.  

 You know what else it does? It puts you in a position where you are losing out on valuable ROI, not only in your inventory, but ROI on your marketing spend as well.    

Closing the gap with converting data into actions: 

Bridging the gap involves linking your digital marketing solutions, leveraging data, and turning insights into actions. When you do this… it creates a seamless shopping-to-buying journey.   

It gives you the ability to reach the right consumer, 
with the right message, at the right time. 
One that leads them right to your digital front door, 
or the showroom door on your lot. 

Most dealers believe they’re doing this. But if you take a closer look at your solutions, you might be surprised to find out they’re not connected and optimized the way they should be or were designed to be.   

Closing the gap by connecting and optimizing your solutions: 

You most likely have many tools and solutions. However, unless you’ve connected and optimized them for activating real results, they’re just not clicking together… so because of this you’re missing out on those big opportunities! The ones to reach, engage and connect with your client. Grow your client base and CDP in the right way.   

And this isn’t as hard to do as you think. It just involves looking at the solutions you have, and seeing what overlaps and integrations are possible to make the data and insights you’re after more robust.   

When there’s a better experience for both you and the shopper, when it’s connected – your deal and customer journey just became even more predictive, faster, and personalized. The win-win we mentioned before and know all dealers and consumers alike are looking for! 

Living in an Amazon world. 

Wants, needs and preferences have changed, not only for in-market auto shoppers, but really for all of us. And how we do business has changed as well, especially over the last couple of years.   

The bar has been set high over the last few years during the pandemic. We’ve come to expect a certain transparency and ease while shopping and researching – and then not only want but demand a frictionless experience when buying.  

There’s no going back to the “old way”. 
That bar cannot be lowered at this point. 
New times call for new ways for dealers to succeed. 

This is a chance for innovation and growth, and a real opportunity in front of all of us right now to keep raising that bar.  

Consumers, wants, needs and preferences in the purchase process: 

Let’s talk a little bit more about what consumers want. Cox Automotive collects first-party web activity from all of our connected sites and solutions. Each year we host a staggering 2.3 billion online visits, manage 80 million leads and sift through 2.9 TRILLION consumer insights.  

What we’re seeing is that the auto shopper’s purchase process is no longer linear; it’s a mix of online and in-person steps. As mentioned earlier, most times it starts online, then goes into the store, and then often bridges back online. Again, it’s no longer the traditional path.  

See this path below? It’s the only place you’ll find a linear purchase path! Today’s auto shopper no longer follows this linear path. They skip steps, backtrack, and mix and match. But when you have connected solutions, you’ll continue to have opportunities at every transition point. 

Now is the time to catch up and continue to raise the bar: 

I don’t think anyone would be surprised to hear that satisfaction with the online car buying journey hasn’t yet matched the ease of an Amazon shopping experience. Now is the time for the automotive world to catch up.  

Buyer loyalty has taken a hit as prices increase, inventory fluctuates, and both inflation and interest rates rise. Your competition is ready to swoop in. Consumers’ needs are evolving, and it’s crucial to stay in step with them. Are you doing that? 

Getting consumers to choose you. 

So, what can you do to stand out so that a consumer ultimately chooses you. Enter AI – it’s your key to understanding your customers’ needs – it’s a bridge. But education, marketing and communications tailored to consumers’ interests are equally vital.   

When done right, your brand will resonate with new cross-shoppers, introducing and reinforcing your image. It will show what your brand stands for, and what you offer that should make you the clear choice as the one to do business with.  

Cross-brand shopping is happening: 

There is definitely some cross-brand shopping happening, and we all know why it’s happening. From inventory fluctuations, to price increases, to rate increases… buyers have had some challenges to navigate and continue to navigate today on their car search.  

From 2021 to 2022 cross-brand shopping went from 39 percent to 56 percent – almost a 20 percent increase! And when our annual Car Buyer Journey study is released at the beginning of next year, those numbers may even inch up higher.   

Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of today’s car buyer. Say you’ve always been an Acura or Honda buyer, and now besides the fluctuating inventory you might be dealing with, you are also now paying $9,051 on average more for a new vehicle since you last purchased one in the beginning of 2020. Yes, that is how much pricing has soared on average list price over the last three years.  

Or let’s take the example that you’ve always been a used buyer. That used car you bought in early 2020 is now going to price $6,806 higher to buy. What are you going to do?   

If you’re a new buyer you’re going to start entertaining used or CPO. And if you’re a used buyer, you may start thinking, “If I’m going to pay $6,800 more, the price difference between a new car isn’t that big anymore and I’ll most likely get a lower interest rate. My payment might be about the same.”  

Whether you are a used or new buyer, you start thinking if you’re going to have to pay almost $10K more for the same car you always buy, what else can you get for that $10K more or at whatever price point you’re comfortable buying and can afford? What other brands are there? What other models are there? Either at the price you normally spend, or at that higher price point?  

Welcome to the mind of today’s consumer. One where they’re open and willing, and in some instances due to inventory and affordability, have to cross-shop.  

A whole new audience is viewing you for the first time:  

A whole new audience is viewing you online. Today’s customers are not just the people that always buy from you, people within your 10 mile to store radius, or people that traditionally buy your brand. Digital retailing tools combined with today’s macro-economic conditions have broken down those barriers.  

With people shopping differently, you need to re-evaluate your marketing and business strategy. Whether you’re dealing with a brand shopper or segment shopper, here are some important questions you should consider and honestly answer: 

  • How are you using your data to really determine what that shopper needs?  
  • Once you identify that shopper’s needs, how are you putting it into action?   

There’s a new opportunity for dealers, and it’s a big one. 

Be focused on bridging that gap for them! You need to educate this new shopper about your brand and your dealership. Make sure you are offering what they are looking for while showing that you are the one who knows exactly what they are looking for and can provide them with exactly the experience they want.  

This is a good time to mention that 47 percent of today’s in-market auto shoppers are Millennials, younger Gen X, and older Gen Z. They want a seamless experience, quick and personalized communication, convenience, and readily available support. They want you to show that you know them. And connecting this all together is key.  

How do you do that? First-party data is your secret weapon. It guides you to create personalized experiences at every touchpoint. Connecting online along with your in-store experiences ensures consistency and builds that trust. It also helps get the deal across the finish line.  

Now let’s talk about operational efficiency and how crucial it is. Consistency across listings, websites, advertising, and digital retailing ensures consumers receive the experience they expect. Predictive, fast, and personalized experiences are what drive success.  

At this point, you might be wondering what other questions you should be asking yourself in order to capitalize on the power and potential of data. Start with these:  

  • What are the Digital Retailing tools you have or plan to have?  
  • Are you leveraging your Digital Retailing tools for insights?  
  • How are you activating those insights from your Digital Retailing tools and how frequently are you doing it? 
  • And most importantly – what Digital Retailing tools do you have connected to make them more robust?  

Pay special attention to that last question because connected solutions elevate your game. They save time, boost lead quality, and increase closing rates. It’s all about serving personalized ads matched to online searches – that win-win situation we keep referencing for both dealers and consumers.  

For the road forward  

Don’t forget that data is your superpower. It gives you the full picture of who your consumer is, what they want, and how you can stand out to them. And when data is connected and activated, things start to click for you, for your customers, and for your business. 

In the midst of all this change lies opportunity. The automotive industry is evolving and will continue to evolve. When you focus on personalization and connectivity, you pave the way forward to success, especially to those who bridge the gap. 

Reshaping is and will continue to happen to the auto purchase process. And as times and consumer preferences change, so must your business plans and strategy. When you leverage the power and potential your connected solutions give you, you’ll not only reach more customers, retain existing customers and increase revenue, but you’ll also pave the way for your business’s future success. 

Autotrader provides you with qualified leads for people who want cars. We have the data that connects and activates your data, and we have the shoppers. We know what they want, and our goal is to match them with our dealer partners, driving quality leads that have the highest gross profit on average industry wide. We connect you with customers virtually, to move shoppers to you, so that you can focus on building and letting your brand shine. 

Cox Automotive has the most connected and comprehensive view of the automotive industry and offers unmatched data and insights into consumer behavior, automotive trends and operational best practices. Whatever your goals, we can help you get there faster to stay a step ahead and successful in today’s marketplace.  

Want to be one of the first to view or listen to the new learning series from Autotrader, Kelley Blue Book and Dealer.com on this same topic? Close out 2023 strong by discovering the power and potential inside your data to drive revenue. The series running 9/20 – 9/22, and on-demand after will help you uncover what your specifics gaps are, give you examples of what marketing and business strategies are working now, and show you how to bridge them with an action plan for a more successful road forward. Register today: https://b2b.autotrader.com/dealer-resources/bridging-the-gap/registration