Canadian auto dealers need to be ready to meet the needs of younger, tech savvy consumers or risk being left behind, says the head of a leading provider of e-commerce solutions for the auto industry.
“The consumer has choice and choice means revolution,” said Louis-Yves Cloutier, chief executive officer and co-founder of Montreal-based 360 Agency.
Forty per cent of car buyers this year will be millennials, who are used to shopping online for everything from shoes to groceries, he said in a speech to the 2020 Automotive News Canada Congress at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre Thursday. He defined millennials as people in their early 30s.
Now, they’re taking a similar approach to buying cars, but with one big difference: While many car buyers start their research online, 95 per cent of cars are still eventually sold through dealerships, he said.
The challenge for dealers is making the transition from online shopping to in-store purchasing appear seamless to the consumer, Cloutier said. Too many dealers lack integrated systems, said Cloutier, whose company has 800 clients.
“It’s one of our biggest struggles right now,” Trent Hargrave, general manager of Riverside Dodge, in Saskatchewan, said.
Hargrave was one of five dealers on a discussion panel following Cloutier’s presentation.
Online retailing is no substitute for good customer service, said Michael Norris, dealer principal at Volvo of Edmonton.
“A lot of this digital stuff doesn’t make any money,” Norris said. “I think there are a lot of bad dealerships. At a lot of these big dealership groups, the service is terrible. They don’t train their people properly.”
Other dealers agreed customer service is key to success both online and in the dealership.
“I want people to feel appreciated even if they don’t end up doing business with us,” said Jim McManes, owner of McManes Automotive Group, in Manitoba.
“Technology isn’t magic,” Cloutier agreed. “It’s just a tool.”
Tammy Roach, owner and general manager of Charlottetown Mitsubishi, said even though not many customers are buying cars online, a lot are shopping online.
“If you’re not ready, you’re going to be left behind,” she said.