Car showrooms throughout the UK are now closed due to government measures to bring the spread of COVID-19 under control. And indications from the UK Chief Medical Officer indicate that these measures could yet extend into the middle of the year.
This poses a major challenge to the motor retail sector, but dealers can still take action now to maximise customer loyalty and safeguard sales.
The Chinese car market is a prime example of how the automotive retail sector can respond to a social lockdown: by going online. Autocar magazine noted earlier in March: ‘…as definite actions were enforced and workers told to isolate, web traffic was booming – as well it might with people stuck at home. Some [carmakers’] activity was aimed at turning this interest into a pipeline of future sales, but all also noted how eager some would-be buyers were to push on with a transaction. All ramped up investment and staffing through their online sales channels as a result.’
Default to digital communication methods
For dealers to protect their enquiries from the shutdown, they need to be prepared to go online. Dealers with a robust social presence stand to benefit most, with house-bound prospective customers spending more time browsing social media or online classifieds.
Under normal conditions, 40 million people in the UK visit Facebook at least once a month, while 80% of those access it more than once a day [source: Facebook IQ].
In fact, early indications from the UK lockdown show that this has increased rapidly. One of Marketing Delivery’s customers, a large dealer group with more than 20 physical sites and a solid social presence, has already seen impressions on Facebook posts grow by 80% since the government advised people to stay at home. The total reach of these posts has grown by 70%.
It’s not about eyes on the page, though. Intriguingly, evidence from the same group suggests that the number of engaged users has even climbed by 18% since the lockdown started.
This is less surprising when you consider that plenty of three-year PCP agreements – agreed after the UK’s all-time-high sales volumes in March 2017 – are set to expire any day now.
With more people at home, drivers are taking this opportunity to carry out research into their next car. And many will be ready to buy as soon as the lockdown is lifted.
Automate your customer interactions
This creates a real opportunity for dealers. With sales teams on lockdown, automated customer communications will start to pay dividends.
Tools such as Marketing Delivery’s SocialStock automatically populate a dealer’s Facebook-based ‘product catalogue’, for instance, taking a stock feed taken directly from their website. Once set up, it’s hassle-free to upload organic and paid-for adverts, with targeting tools promoting posts to specific, relevant audiences.
Furthermore, automated email campaigns can help dealers tailor communications to each recipient, and help sales teams stay on top of every opportunity. Email remains the number-one method for engaging with customers, with 47.6% of UK drivers naming it as their preferred means of dealer contact for sales, and 48.3% for aftersales – ahead of phone and SMS contact.
Keep your aftersales customers up-to-date
Aftersales is just as important. Following the UK government’s six-month extension to MOT due dates for cars, motorcycles and light vans, customers will turn to dealers for clarity and to find out when their car’s next test is due.
Again, automated email alerts can inform vehicle owners about MOT dates. Not only will this give customers peace of mind; it will mean those customers are far more likely to return for aftersales work.
With showroom doors shut, sales and aftersales teams can still keep customers interested. The dealers that use this time wisely will be best placed to bounce back when life returns to normal.