How Automotive Dealers can Navigate the COVID-19 pandemic


Over the past few months, the novel coronavirus has caused massive disruptions around the world, impacting the economy and people’s way of life. In turn, this has influenced how customers engage with brands, including the media that they consume and how they spend their free time.

Digital marketers need to understand these changing behaviors. This allows them to better engage with their current and prospective customers and continue to build relationships with consumers.

In the auto industry, building relationships is an important part of the process. Here is what auto dealers need to understand about thriving online during these unprecedented times.

How consumer behavior is changing

As the coronavirus continues to spread, people have begun to experience massive disruptions to their daily lives. People have become more restricted in their movements, which leads to greater time indoors, and more time engaging with digital content and watching TV. In South Korea, Nielsen found that television viewership shot up 17 percent. In Italy, the size of the TV audience increased by 6.5 percent, with hard-hit Lombardy seeing a 12 percent increase.

As the virus begins to spread in the United States, we see similar trends. In the Seattle area, television use increased 22 percent on March 11 compared to the week before. When New Yorkers went to telework, television consumption went up 8 percent.

Sports and events have been canceled across the country, which has wiped out viewership for sports channels. Instead, customers have begun to turn to online video.

Consumers today have begun to rely on digital media, search, and social even more than they did before, which means that this is not the time for businesses to go dark online, but to make strategic decisions based on new consumer behavior.

How Automotive Dealerships can continue to nurture consumer relationships

Car dealers can adjust to these changes in consumer behavior to nurture relationships with prospective customers. They can increase their ‘share of mind’, building a strong brand in the minds of their customers. Then, when people are ready to buy a car again, they will turn to this dealership to get started. Here are a few ideas to get started.

Explain what measures and precautions are being taken at the dealership

Let customers know that you prioritize the health of your employees and customers and do everything possible to protect them. Help those who might shop now or in the future know that your customers always come first in your mind.

Limit your hours and encourage appointments

Limiting your hours allows you to provide more direct engagement with your customers. Customers can shop confidently, knowing that fewer people will be there at the same time, and receive the personalized attention that helps them buy.

Reach out to old leads with new incentives

Past leads who did not buy may have an opportunity now to make a purchase with new, aggressive incentives that are being rolled out by most of the major manufacturers. Reach out to those who showed interest in the past to see if you can re-engage them. With a less chaotic schedule, they may be more receptive to what you have to say.

Delivering test drives

As potential customers now find themselves with more free time, they may be more interested in buying a car. Make the process even easier for them, and reduce their worries about entering your dealership, by bringing the test drive right to them.

Facetime with customers to do vehicle walk-arounds

Get the buying process started with those in the market for a car by helping them see your inventory up close, without having to come to the dealership. As people feel more anxious about shopping, you can alleviate their concerns by giving them a walk around that gets them up close to the car but doesn’t require their attendance.

Sending videos of vehicle walk-arounds to customers

As you do walk-arounds of your vehicle inventory, record it and use the videos to give other leads an up-close look at your cars and encourage them to consider a purchase.

Offer pick up and drop off options for service customers

Customers trying to practice the recommended social distancing may still need their cars serviced. By offering them pick up and drop off services, you can encourage them to engage with your service department while also minimizing their risk.

Reach out to existing customers from the GM/owners

Take this opportunity to let your customers know that you are right there beside them to build solidarity. Use email and social media to let them know that your dealership is doing your part.

The new coronavirus sweeping the nation has presented a number of challenges for businesses and customers across all industries, including the auto industry. Understanding what we can do about these problems can help you engage with your customers and use this time to still promote your business in the minds of customers.

Written by

Christian Ferrer

Christian serves as VP of Automotive Sales and Marketing for Demand Local. Christian has been with Demand Local since April of 2010 where he partners with dealer groups and ad agencies providing new and innovative digital marketing strategies that help clients grow their brand, market share and profit margins.

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