Pandemic Era Car Buying Habits Are Driving Luxury Dealers To Move Faster And Be More Customer-Focused
Buying a luxury vehicle and tailoring it to the buyer’s needs is nothing new. The craftsmanship of the bodywork shifted from wagons to automobiles at the turn of the 20th century and has never looked back.
Super luxury vehicles have been in greater demand over the past few years than at any time in recent history. The COVID-19 pandemic has derailed the typical concierge-level buying process that premium vehicle customers receive, as many were no longer willing or able to come to a dealership to consult one-on-one. -head the design teams.
Dealers need to adjust their purchasing models in different ways to meet the needs of these customers. Rather than a typical simple search-click-buy method that a traditional car buyer goes through, the consultation layers for a custom vehicle are part of an evolutionary design process. This should be translated into a digital space suited to the circumstances, the clientele and the vehicles at the same time.
Historically speaking, Joe Lawrence, Executive Vice President of Porsche North America and COO at Porsche, has never seen a better time to enhance the individual dealership experience. In the past, customers mixed between four and five dealerships before deciding which car to buy.
âWhat we’ve seen with industry research is that now buyers visit fewer than two dealerships (on average) before leaving in their new vehicle,â Lawrence said in a recent interview with News week.
He says Porsche, like the rest of the industry, has seen an acceleration in interest in online shopping platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic. The company has evolved the buying process to ensure that a buyer can take full advantage of the company’s end-to-end digital sales platform, which allows them to choose not to set foot in a dealership throughout its purchasing journey.
âThis is not the majority case, but this option became more and more available for those who wanted to buy this way,â he said. “Of course, he was probably more popular than ever during the first few months of the pandemic.”
The luxury car segment has always taken a customer-centric approach to its sales. But at the start of the pandemic, dealers across the country were looking for ways to maintain relationships with potential and existing customers.
According to Michael Rocco, vice president of business operations at Bentley Motors, what could be seen as long-term goals in customer service retooling have come to the fore out of necessity in an age of contactless interactions.
âIn luxury in general, a lot of it happened before the pandemic,â Rocco said in a recent interview with News week. “It only got a little more important because people were obviously concerned about safety. We have a number of dealers who wanted to make sure they were gaining trust and being credible with the customer.”
He explained that as dealerships sought to develop that trust with customers during the height of the pandemic, they would focus on safety and sanitation protocols. Some dealerships have started using duct tape to signify that a car has been disinfected before delivery or after bringing the car in for maintenance.
In his role as General Manager of Post Oak Motor Cars in Houston, Lonny Soza said News week that its employees are well equipped to deliver a next-level experience to any potential buyer. This ranges from the location of Rolls-Royce Houston inside the Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five-Diamond Post Oak to the customer service experience that guides customers through the ordering process. bespoke vehicles and throughout the life of the car. The Rolls-Royce dealership arm of the company was named the automaker’s dealership of the year in 2020.
âIt’s a five star environment,â Soza said. “So when we welcome (the clients), we try to have that caliber of presence and try to maintain that experience throughout the process.”
Welcoming customers outside of this environment quickly became a key factor in doing business, he says. Setup sessions and test drives can be organized wherever customers are, at home or in their business. Other requests are also mandatory, such as cleaning the showroom for a private visit.
The focus is now on where the customer is rather than where the dealer is, explained Soza. Its employees can travel to a customer’s location to set up orders, make repairs, or transport cars to where they need to be.
âWith this level of customer base and this level of vehicle, we try not to say no,â said Soza. âIf it makes sense, we’re doing business the way and where the customer wants to do it. “
Despite the emphasis on in-person interaction, luxury car dealerships also use digital components to complement their business. Porsche dealers are focusing on how to digitally connect with a potential buyer as they browse their options online and spend less time shopping physically. They use online channels to guide customers through the configurator or send them videos of cars in stock.
âPorsche must provide a top notch online experience, but we also believe that the physical experience at a Porsche dealership will remain absolutely essential in the future,â said Lawrence.
To this end, Porsche dealers have invested $ 1 billion over the past 10 years to modernize physical dealerships. An additional $ 900 million will be invested over the next three years.
The refinement of the experience, says Lawrence, extends to the dealership staff.
Each dealership is equipped with customer-focused staff, like the Porsche Pro, who can help drivers pair their phone to the car, or customer experience managers. Behavioral training takes place to stay relevant to new target groups, such as what the company calls âDriven Youthâ and âDriven Femaleâ.
Seeking to refine the customer experience to the most granular levels, Syp Coffee is part of a pilot program at the Rolls-Royce Nashville dealership that seeks to mirror the experience of buying bespoke luxury cars with the experience of roasting coffee.
Craig Margolius, the founder of Syp, said in a recent interview with News week that his business is focused on fresh roasted coffee as a gift experience, whether it’s for the person ordering or for a customer to give to a friend, family member or business associate.
Coffee can be roasted on demand within the dealership to exact customer specifications based on their preferred tasting notes via infrared roasters.
Syp also offers espresso-based drinks to consume while customers browse the Carlock Motorcars showroom or meet with their sales representative to configure their next super luxury car.
As customer trends shift towards a desire to spend less time in a dealership, Margolius sees Syp as a respite for customers.
âPeople who come to this concession don’t necessarily want to spend a lot of time here,â he said. âBut sometimes they have to. I think that’s why it works, so far, very well. It’s really a partnership. If we are able to occupy their clients’ time where they would become. normally impatient or counting the minutes until their car is ready, it is very rewarding for me. “
Bentley says that over the past year, the pressure on the buying trigger has eased as customers are more confident about what they want. In response, the company has increased the options available on the cars to highlight just how tailor-made the deal is.
Expect a wait of six to eight months for the delivery of your new Bentley if you want this bespoke setup.
The anticipation of new Bentley models launched in 2019 and 2020 resulted in increased demand when they were released. The result is an order bank filled to the brim and fewer inventory units collecting dust on dealer lots.
âOverall, what happened during the pandemic has allowed the luxury market to really realign itself and become a lot healthier and more sustainable due to inventory levels,â Rocco said.
Now that the luxury car market is well positioned to meet demand and that these customer-centric processes are firmly in place, Soza says there is no turning back.
âWe had a desire to get there before COVID and COVID has moved us quickly to where we are now,â Soza explained. “When we get past all of that, there is no reason for us to retract or change this approach.”