NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. — As millennials and the generation following them make up a growing portion of the new-vehicle market, it is crucial that automakers and dealers adjust to meet their expectations.
That was a key takeaway from the Automotive Conference and Expo, hosted by the Trillium Automobile Dealers Association (TADA) in April.
It was telling that the conference’s first session was led by Doug Stephens, a retail futurist and consultant who tells retailers that what people expect during their experience at a physical store is drastically changing.
“Previous generations were measured by what we owned,” Stephens said. “This is a generation that measures their worth more on the basis of where they are, who they’re with and what they’re doing.”
As we reported in the April edition, young people still want to buy cars — they’re loading up on debt to do it — but they are visiting far fewer dealerships when shopping. The Internet, or rather the electronic access to new-vehicle information, has completely changed the process. Consumers across all generations are better informed and are far less likely to visit multiple dealerships before making a purchase.
And young people are the most likely to know exactly what they want before they arrive, because they generally are the most comfortable with online shopping and, perhaps more importantly, have little experience with the old car-shopping process.
The big takeaway for dealers, according to Stephens, is that when those buyers walk into the dealership their experience be memorable.
How so? By doing things no other dealership would think to do, Stephens said.
“Surprise is the critical element,” he said.
Those surprises can be anything from, perhaps, a spot designated in the store for “selfie” photos, which can help the brand stand out on social media, to something like an immersive virtual reality experience. Or anything, really, that is different and can help your store stand out while allowing customers to have fun.
Stores in other sectors could serve as templates. Apple’s physical stores, for instance, initially set themselves apart partly due to minimalist design.
The important factors are, as always, great customer service and delivering a product that people want, but Stephens suggests that dealerships and automakers go further by making the online-to-physical-store shopping process seamless. For example, make the dealerships photogenic enough for selfies and host events designed to draw people in.
BRAND OVER SALES
The idea is about boosting a brand’s image in the eyes of consumers and making buyers want to go to a dealership, instead of the view that most shoppers have of the car-buying process being a hassle.
“Make it a big brand experience, not just a sales thing,” he said.
Every dealership and every market is different, so what that “brand experience” looks like will be different from store to store. But those auto dealers who can figure it out are bound to reap the benefits in the future.