More Than Ever, The Car Dealership Experience Matters

October 18, 2011
In an ideal world, car shoppers could research models, arrange financing and insurance, negotiate a trade and even arrange home delivery of their new car from the comfort of their living room. Visiting a car dealership would be reserved for test drives and for picking up the odd maintenance item, like an oil filter or a bottle of touch up paint.

While many dealers are close to this level of online sophistication, none are completely willing to embrace the internet as a replacement for floor traffic in dealerships. As Mark Bonfigli of told Ward’s Auto (subscription required), “the dealership experience matters.”

That may hold true even more than in the past. Prior to the internet age, a dissatisfied customer would complain to friends, neighbors and relatives about a negative dealership experience, reaching perhaps dozens of people.

Today, thanks to the popularity of social media and message boards, a negative experience can reach thousands of people instantly. In other words, auto dealer customer service has become even more critical than in years past.

The challenge for dealerships is attracting and retaining sales staff who are customer-focused, internet savvy and knowledgeable about product. Given that car sales is traditionally a high-turnover job, the new demands simply make a bad situation worse.

As we more closer to online car buying, dealers will need to be more proactive about providing real-time inventory tracking as well. As many car shoppers will tell you, cars shown in online inventory don’t always appear on dealer lots, contributing to a negative perception of a particular dealership.

What does it mean for consumers? In the future, car dealerships will need to be more consumer-focused than ever before, while online customers will be able to complete more of the buying process from the comfort of their own home.

We all win with an improved car dealer experience. You’ll never be able to test drive a car with a mouse and a keyboard, but you’ll be able to complete the rest on the process online soon enough.

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