For the first time in over two months, June saw car retailers in England, Wales and Scotland open their doors post COVID-19 lockdown. Although click and collect services have been officially available since May, showrooms made their return as the place where the majority of customers will make their final purchasing decisions. Not only do retailers have the opportunity to prioritise face-to-face customer service to influence – at a safe distance – but there’s also the opportunity to promote wider services and products through clever communication campaigns to influence the bottom line. James Morris, sales director at leading print manufacturer, Gardners, explains what automotive retailers should be considering over the next quarter and beyond.
As has been the case for most industries, 2020 was a complicated year for car retailers. UK car registrations were down by 89% in May 2020 in comparison to 2019, with just 20,247 new car registered in comparison to 183,724 in the previous year. However, these stats have demonstrated emerging consumer trends, including the surge in demand for electric vehicles (21.5% increase) with pre-ordered premium cars including the Tesla Model 3 and Jaguar I-Pace being delivered to customers throughout the pandemic. Plus, July saw a jump in new and used vehicle sales in July with new car sales rising by 18% and second-hand sales up 14%. Although this may tell us what to expect within the sector over the next few months, with consumers pursuing more sustainable options, it also provides an opportunity to re-shape how retailers engage audiences. Research shows that 95% of UK car detailers are confident that their business will survive the impact of the pandemic, but what opportunities can be explored during this time?
Bringing the showroom to the customer
With many lockdown restrictions and social distancing still in place, showrooms will inevitably look to limit the number of customers visiting at any one time when they are able to operate. The showroom will remain an essential part of the sales process however, consumer insight tells us that the consideration will likely take place long before customers engage with brands on a face-to-face level in the showroom environment. Now, more brands could consider bringing the showroom to the customer at traditional shopping spaces. Some brands are already doing this well. For example, Rockar opened a shopping centre store with Jaguar Land Rover in 2016 in Westfield Stratford City with test drives available and ‘Rockar Angels’ available to assist. Venue decorating print campaigns and refurbishments can transform any space, so this may be a move to consider as many consumers flock towards the retail setting post-lockdown.
Focus on customer education
A car is not just a car – it’s a way of life and a way to connect with or spend time with loved ones. Evolving automotive technology can help to further this message. Volkswagen We is currently looking to educate customers about mobility, tech and cars of the future and recently opened a ‘community hub’ in Berlin with in-store events, presentations and more. This has been designed to start conversations whilst getting customer buy-in for new services. It has created a futuristic space that makes an impact, taking the initial focus away from sales to encourage customers to step through the door.
Simplify the customer journey
Leading the way in simplifying the customer journey is US-based online sales platform, Carvana, which sells, buys or finances used cars. With quick next day delivery options, customers can have their new wheels delivered to them at the click of a button. However, if customers want to pick up their purchase, Carvana uses multi-storey car vending machines, using a code or special coin to retrieve their vehicle, simplifying the customer journey. Perhaps unsurprisingly, UK retailers are following suit and in the current climate where social distancing remains a priority, it’s likely that services of this type will only increase in popularity. So, for any pick-up operations, retailers may want to consider outdoor banners or floor graphics to help seamlessly guide customers through the process, particularly if there is not a customer service agent involved in the exchange.
This will be led by customer needs and will also mean adapting messaging accordingly. Research shows that now, 20% of UK consumers are willing to buy a car online and brands like Jaguar, Land Rover and Hyundai have already started to note this trend and incorporate this into their strategy (and dealerships) accordingly. The brands have cars on display with the newest models promoted via banner advertising particularly at the point of sale to showcase what’s available, but they are also inviting customers to buy online should they want to. Given that customers are buying into the click and collect option, it makes business sense to incorporate this into operations and communications campaigns.
Competition in the automotive retail sector will likely remain high over the next few months, particularly as the industry looks to move on from its lockdown figures. Therefore, to stand out, retailers must look to optimise opportunities, taking print campaigns out of ‘cruise control’ and instead, opting for big, bold and beautiful campaigns that make an impact.