Empty car dealership due to COVID restrictions

Can COVID-19 Finally Cure Dealers of Their ‘Enhanced’ Lead Generation Addiction?

The effects of COVID-19 on our industry are overwhelming, as are the claims that Digital Retailing (DR) will be its savior.  The reality is that real Digital Retailing, including getting to a fundable contract – versus ‘enhanced’ lead generation masquerading as DR – has the potential not only to save our industry by helping auto dealerships start selling cars now, but also to accelerate the changes that can ensure a more efficient, more profitable future.

At eLEND we have been evangelizing for DR – true DR – long before anyone had heard of the novel Coronavirus.  We have fielded dealership surveys that have highlighted how DR, when done right, can increase dealers’ efficiency and profits – while ensuring dealers keep control of the sale. We have also worked hard to illuminate misunderstandings and disconnects when it comes to setting up a successful DR strategy.

A few months ago, at NADA 2020 (boy, that seems like a lifetime ago), eLEND released its Digital Retailing Report Card, a survey of auto dealerships which focused on the common challenges of integrating DR into the sales process. I thought it might be interesting to take a fresh look at those survey results with a “New Covid-19 Normal” lens. In this “new normal,” consumers’ desire to drastically shorten the time they are willing to spend in a dealership sitting in an enclosed space, like the F&I or sales office, has amplified. (Check out my recent blog that asks: “Will Social Distancing Be What Finally Shortens In-Dealership Transaction Times?”)

The Stage Has Been Set for Revolutionizing the Deal with Digital Retailing

In our pre-COVID survey, the vast majority of dealers (83%) agreed with this definition of digital retailing: “Digital retailing combines technology and process/workflows to help customers move themselves down funnel online and seamlessly pick up where they left off when they get to the dealership.”

With physical/social distancing still in place in most states, enabling customers to move themselves down the sales funnel online has never been more important. Combined with the fact that many OEMs are actively enticing consumers back into the market with new and better incentives (and commercials that promise an easy, touchless purchase process) and you have the loudest argument yet for getting your DR strategy right – RIGHT NOW!

Dealers who have avoided real, transactional DR are being forced to recognize that “enhanced lead generation” tactics such as…:

  • ‘Get Your ePrice’ CTA’s
  • Long-form credit apps that don’t return immediate/accurate credit decisions
  • Trade-in tools that don’t return instant appraisal values
  • Chat bots that function not to enhance the consumer experience, but mainly to collect customer data for the sales team

…have not – and will not – address consumers’ real need for change in the car buying process.

Lead generation addiction – bolstered by the above tactics that actually make the experience worse, not better – has made it hard for dealers to adopt the kind of robust, online interactions consumers have been craving and now, because of the ‘new normal,’ actually require. Breaking that addiction is critical to a successful DR transformation, facilitating two-way engagement which is the fastest way to increase visitor-to-sales ratios.   Customers have long indicated that they prefer to spend less time at the dealership and that they would welcome opportunities to complete ‘buying’ steps online.  The ‘new normal’ has amplified this.

Given that we are living through the biggest social, economic and cultural shift in our lifetimes, now is the time to bridge the gap between ‘new normal’ consumer expectations and the ‘old normal’ sales process.  Now is the time to make – or at least consider making – the necessary technology, investments, process upgrades, and culture/staffing changes required for DR to be successful at your dealership.

Many dealerships are – by choice or force – preparing to accommodate the required shift to sell cars remotely.  This means having DR tools and workflows in place that streamline the process by enabling consumers to complete many steps of the transaction – including getting to a fundable contract – online and that eliminate any online to in-store information gaps or process duplications.


To view and download The Value of Making Your Dealership Website More Transactional Infographic, click here.

Pete brings 40+ years of experience in automotive finance and technology as Founder and CEO of eLEND Solutions™, an automotive FinTech company providing a middleware solution designed to power transactional digital retailing buying experiences. The platform specializes in hybrid credit report, identity verification, and ‘pre-desking’ solutions, accelerating end-to-end purchase experiences - helping dealers sell more cars! Faster! 

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