For most car dealers the current wave of Covid-19 firebreaks, circuit-breakers and tiered restrictions have been immensely disruptive but not terminal.
Hard lessons learnt during the national lockdown back in March have kicked in, enabling businesses to continue to operate.
While that disruption accelerated the rollout of digital click and collect and home delivery services, it also highlighted the need to return to basics in some areas of dealer operations.
One of the few positives from that period was just how strongly consumer demand held up, highlighting the need to manage in-coming leads while showrooms and forecourts were shut to buyers.
Even though much of that pent-up demand has now been satisfied, buyers remain in the market, despite the pandemic.
New research from What Car? polled the views of over 2,100 in-market buyers with two-thirds saying Covid-19 did not affect their car buying decision.
It also found that 3% of buyers had actually brought forward their decision to buy a car, while 5% bought a car during the pandemic having had no intention of buying one before.
It’s not just dealers showing resilience, it’s buyers too!
Despite all the challenges thrown at them this year, dealers have done a remarkably good job at satisfying demand.
Showrooms may have been closed to the public but most car retailers remained active in the digital world following the rollout of online services enabling customers to transact – or, at least, begin to transact — remotely.
Furthermore, sales staff have remained on hand to field customer enquiries. Which is just as well as buyers have wanted to engage with them throughout the restrictions, rewarding those dealers with clear online messaging encouraging customers to get in touch to discuss cars they’ve seen advertised online.
It’s been a learning experience for everyone.
The level of interest in buying used cars during the various restrictions should not be underestimated.
eBay Motors Group researched buying trends across its platforms during England’s Lockdown 2.0 in November, providing a useful indicator of consumer trends should showrooms be forced to shut again over the coming months.
Its research showed how in-bound email and phone enquiries dipped immediately following the government’s announcement of the pending lockdown, an understandable kneejerk reaction as consumers don’t like uncertainty.
Yet by the second week of November enquiries had not just rallied but were 16% higher than the same week in November 2019, months before Covid-19 turned the world upside down.
Furthermore, these enquiry levels were 80% higher than those recorded in March, suggesting that for buyers lockdowns no longer mean shutdowns when it comes to buying a car.
eBay Motors Group’s research also found email leads overtaking phone calls to account for 52% of all in-bound customer enquiries, mirroring a trend seen in the first lockdown in March.
What recent months have highlighted is the importance of managing every single in-bound lead, whether that’s by utilising sophisticated lead management tools within dealer management systems or by having robust manual processes in place.
The challenge facing many dealers is responding quickly and efficiently to enquiries from buyers, not always a straightforward task with sales teams depleted and stretched as a result of furloughing.
Swift responses are essential.
A customer who has invested the time and effort to phone or email a dealership will expect a response within an hour, if not they will simply continue their online journey elsewhere.
Those dealers on top of their game know this and will ensure no leads slip through their fingers.
This is what will help safeguard car sales over the coming months as we enter 2021 with further lockdowns and more disruptions on the horizon.
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