The coronavirus health crisis will end – but it has changed us forever. Consumer’s buying habits and their expectations of the buying experience, have evolved during this crisis. Understanding and accommodating this alteration in buying behavior will be critical to our ongoing success.
“Customers have gotten used to being able to buy what they want online and at any time – and the coronavirus lockdown is only going to accelerate this” Jack Hollis, Toyota, North America.
In many states, new car sales are restricted to online sales only. Some dealers are scrambling to spin-up the ability to sell online and then deliver a car to their customer’s residence. You might be thinking “coronavirus won’t last long and then things will go back to the way they were so why bother with online retail?” You’re probably right about coronavirus not lasting, but you may be wrong about things going back to the way they were. It’s very possible that consumers will want the convenience of buying their favorite brand of toothpaste, beer, or even automobile remotely long after the virus has disappeared.
Dealers that want to augment the traditional, “brick and mortar” approach to selling a vehicle with an online approach to get through today’s crisis – and to boost customer loyalty for years to come – need to consider some IT best practices that should be in place to support such an endeavor. It’s important to remember that effectively selling online – whether you are selling t-shirts or cars – involves much more than just a website with a shopping cart.
To successfully sell online you must provide the consumer with a satisfying buying experience. More specifically, this means the buying experience must be personalized, convenient, and transparent. We have all purchased something online and we all can quickly determine those that do it right and those that don’t. Those that do it right get rewarded with our loyalty and those that don’t never see us again.
The online retailers that do it right are those that appear to know us and know what we need. They personalize the content we see and make our buying experience almost effortless. In addition to personalizing our buying journey, those that do it right allow us to move through the purchasing process via a variety of methods. This might include having an established and secure account, or as a guest, or via a PC or mobile application. This flexibility makes the buying experience convenient for us. And, those that do it right provide transparency throughout the buying journey so we know where we are in the buying process and we can monitor the delivery of the goods we have purchased.
To deliver personalization, convenience, and transparency dealers must have an IT environment optimized to handle the data, connectivity, and security requirements that makes it possible to “do it right.”
Data is key to providing a personalized buying experience. It’s also essential from an analytics standpoint so that dealers can understand what is working and what’s not working so that adjustments to the online buying experience can be continuously improved.
A move to online retailing will result in the collection and use of an expanding amount of data. Therefore careful consideration as to where this data is stored and how it is maintained to ensure that it is always available to the people and systems that need this data.
This means your data storage approach needs to provide both high availability and full redundancy. More specifically, this means it would be a mistake to store your data on an old server located in a dusty IT closet.
With regards to connectivity, this is about the connectivity of the systems and devices within your dealership and between your dealership and your auto manufacturer and your vendors. If you don’t have reliable, high-speed Wifi and Internet access then you will not be able to effectively collect, update and use the data you need to deliver accurate and timely data personalization and transparency to the consumer.
This means if you have old or residential quality network equipment deployed or if you have your Wifi nodes and routers haphazardly placed throughout your dealership then you will not be effective at online retailing.
Online consumers expect that the information you have about them is private and secure. If you fail to live up to this expectation then consumers will make sure you pay the price by not doing business with you again. 84% of consumers say that they will not do business again with a dealer that has suffered a cybersecurity breach.
This means that the growing quantity of data that you are collecting and using to provide a personalized and convenient buying experience should be encrypted, regularly backed-up and accessibility to this data must be controlled with the appropriate role-based security and multi-factor authentication.
One thing that you can count on is that what works today will change tomorrow. Consumer expectations, technology, and cybersecurity threats are constantly evolving. For those who want to be successful at online retailing you have to be in a constant state of ongoing refinement. When customer expectations expand quicker than your ability to support these expectations then you can expect a degradation of customer loyalty as the consumer seeks others who can meet their expectations.
This means that dealers must have an appropriate IT environment in place today while also planning for the future and making ongoing improvements to their IT over time. This requires a team of certified professionals managing and strategizing to keep your dealership – and your supporting technology – one step ahead of the competition and your customer’s expectations.