Jeffrey Schwartz – President, SureSale
Shortly before the coronavirus changed just about everything, at SureSale we were poised to release a study of pre-owned vehicle shoppers and buyers titled Solving the Used Vehicle Trust Gap. Conducted by an independent research organization, the study investigated key pain points for consumers in the used vehicle purchase process, as well as how more confidence and trust can be injected into the process.
Since the pandemic upended all of our lives, every lens has been adjusted; however, the data in the study is not only still relevant, but it also amplifies the wisdom of auto dealership process changes that have been accelerated by social distancing and new imperatives for contactless transactions. Over the weeks to come, I will be sharing key data points from the study, and their relevance to the pre-owned sales process in a post COVID-19 world. The study is based on one-on-one interviews, surveys and quantitative analysis of hundreds of used vehicle shoppers and buyers.
What do consumers find least, enjoyable about buying a used vehicle?
Today, I am going to focus on that age-old question: what is the least enjoyable part of buying a pre-owned vehicle? This is a question that always seems to yield the same answer: haggling/negotiating. But, given trust issues in the used vehicle sales process, it must continue to be asked. And, so, we did.
What is interesting about the answer is that it underscores how process changes, spurred by the current crisis and embraced by dealers, can change the consumer/dealership relationship for the better.
In our study, the largest number of respondents said ‘spending time in the dealership’ was the least enjoyable part of buying a used vehicle. This is in spite of all the bells and whistles dealerships have added to their showrooms to modernize and make them more comfortable over the past few years. These results underscore that it didn’t take a pandemic to highlight that used car buyers dislike spending hours in the dealership – and I am sure that it is not the aesthetics of the showroom, but the drawn-out process, that pains them. What is even more interesting is that this pain point edged out ‘negotiating the deal’ (although that ranked high too) – so, actually being in the dealership feels worse to consumers than price haggling.
I wonder if this piece of data would have seemed quite so compelling without the spur of a pandemic that is, quite literally, ruling out time spent in the dealership by consumers? Today, auto dealers are implementing digital retailing protocols so they can sell cars through a lower-touch experience, which means that information-rich platforms that engender trust, expediency and efficiency will be essential arrows in dealerships’ pre-owned vehicle digital retailing quivers. And the end game? Giving consumers what they have long wanted – less time in the dealership – and auto dealers, something they will surely need in today’s challenging climate: a more efficient, more streamlined and profitable sales process.
Long Live the Test Drive!
Interestingly, when used car shoppers and buyers were asked what they considered to be the most enjoyable part of buying a used vehicle, test driving ranked at the top, by orders of magnitude – with the other numbers so low, that it is fair to conclude that the only part of the process consumers really enjoy is actually experiencing the vehicle – and, yet, that is a part of the sales process that has been significantly impacted by COVID-19, but dealers have been implementing a variety of strategies from YouTube videos and website virtual reality tools, to solo test drives with strict sanitizing protocols, to dropping the sanitized vehicle off for the potential buyer to test drive alone. But, even contactless and sanitized, is a test drive really robust enough for a consumer to understand everything about that vehicle, when each one comes with its own history and its own individual fingerprint?
In a world where auto dealership sales people are communicating over the phone, or electronically by Zoom, text or email, and the logistics of a consumer getting an independent mechanic to assess the vehicle are prohibitive, one has to wonder: even with a test drive, how can a salesperson instill enough consumer confidence in that used vehicle to close the deal? Especially given that remote interactions lack the interpersonal cues that build confidence (farewell to the trusted handshake!). Well, vehicle certification is a good answer to that. Facts, data and guarantees are powerful replacements to pressing the flesh.
Unfortunately, OEM CPO programs are limited by brand and eligibility requirements and represent a very small segment of used vehicles. But, what if dealerships could offer a certification program on used inventory that is not covered by OEM programs? Across virtually all makes and hundreds of models, a third-party standard that includes a rigorous, third-party mobile inspection, as well as a deep and comprehensive report on the vehicle’s condition and history? Challenger models such as Carvana are already ahead of the game on this front, and auto dealerships must be able to confront this competition head on with a process that is even better.
At SureSale, we have developed a solution for that – a gold standard that enhances a consumer’s trust in a dealer’s pre-owned inventory. Our turnkey certification-as-a-service platform facilitates consumer confidence by arming sales personnel with the tools for an information-rich, fact-based interaction, on each SureSale Certified vehicle, without that consumer ever having to be in the dealership. This includes a digital report, the Factfile™, which follows the vehicle everywhere it’s marketed online and includes all the details of the vehicle’s background and 170-point inspection.
Pandemic or no pandemic, used car shoppers and buyers want a better process, with less time spent in the dealership. The in-dealership test drive is already returning, but with new trails being blazed by digital retailing tools and platforms like SureSale’s, long hours spent inside the dealership are unquestionably a thing of the past. And that is probably a good thing for consumer and auto dealer alike.
Research Methodology: An independent research organization conducted one-on-one interviews, surveys, and quantitative analysis of 300 used vehicle shoppers and buyers, including 100 who plan to buy pre-owned in the next 6 months and 200 who have purchased a pre-owned vehicle in the last 6 months.