May 26, 2015
The car industry hasn’t progressed much online in the past 10 years. In the web-centric universe we live in, there’s a surprisingly high level of disfunction and disconnect in how car dealerships deal with web shoppers.
In a recent car search, I found that dealers treat online inquiries as an exception- the kind of exception that gets lost in the shuffle- with a generic, templated email response that doesn’t answer or acknowledge a very specific request, with follow ups from the general manager saying, “by now, I hope you’ve received the information you’ve requested, and here’s why you should shop at our world-class dealership” (when no info has been sent), and an almost complete inability to get specific questions answered via online or email.
They haven’t figured out how to accommodate the way shoppers want to interact. They’re sharing info with sites like Edmunds, but they’re not able to follow through on requests for information. They desperately need to. It would be so much easier for them to sell cars. And we’d all feel so much better about the experience.
I know I’ll do just about anything to avoid the painful haggling and eviscerating experience of negotiating to buy a car in the dealership. In fact, I won’t even step foot in a dealership without knowing exactly what their prices are & negotiating my deal in advance. By the time I go in to test drive and buy- I already know what I will pay, and who I’ll buy the car from.
Cars.com and Edmunds.com make it relatively easy to research pricing, availability and dealerships within a user-defined area. You can then select the dealers you want quotes from, and can add specific text to specify what you want. The process breaks down at the national and local dealer level. The generic form letters begin. Here’s an example, missing image and all:
You can see how helpful this was. My inquiry was for a specific make and model with specific lease terms and questions about availability. I got an ad for Mazda.
On a national dealer site, there was a click-to-chat window, branded with a specific person’s name who was ready to help me right now. When I clicked it…I got an error message that ‘ended’ the conversation.
The conversations went equally well on the phone. Here, I was a directed shopper- ready to buy. Most dealerships I contacted lost the sale by losing track of the conversation- they all had an ‘internet specialist’, who typically returned the call a day or two later, when I’d already heard from someone else, or pursued and received the info I needed. It’s disappointing that it had to be so hard. On the flip side, It’s an amazing opportunity for dealerships to transform the business model and make this a stellar experience. They’d stand out.
In the end- one dealer stood out- they had what I wanted, and they didn’t waste my time. I wasn’t able to do it fully online- it did take a few calls. But the online screening did finally get me to the right dealer, the right price, and the right car. Painfully.
The point of all of this is- when it comes to having an online presence- don’t do it if you’re not going to do it right. A website is not a set it and forget it. It’s a living, breathing thing- and it will break if you don’t nurture it. You have to be all in. In this case, it looks like the car industry set it about 10 years ago, and hasn’t dealt with it since.