As we round the corner on the new year, it’s a good opportunity to look ahead at the next big trends in retail automotive. While we’ve recently identified trends in automotive hiring, we’re also seeing rapidly-changing consumer behaviors having an impact on the automotive path to purchase. How can dealers get ahead of this trend to better serve today’s research and tech-savvy customer? While there will be plenty of inspiration from this year’s NADA conference and industry research, the most resourceful dealers will look outside the retail automotive space to see how to better serve our customers. One unlikely place for this inspiration is Amazon.

At first glance, Amazon might seem like a very unlikely company to relate to dealership customer service. But beyond their massive online presence and media services, Amazon is seeing their next opportunity to better serve their customers with physical stores. In late 2016, the company announced Amazon Go: a staff-free convenient store where people stop in, grab what they need, and leave while paying with the Amazon mobile app. Amazon also opened a handful of brick-and-mortar bookstores at a time when large bookstore chains like Barnes and Noble are struggling.

How are these two developments related and what do they have to do with dealerships? They both focus on going above and beyond to serve the needs of the customer 

Amazon Go: The Staffless Store

With Amazon Go, the company identified two major pain points with the convenience store model: limited selection of goods and long lines. If this new concept is a success, Amazon Go might help redefine the retail experience beyond convenience stores: helping customers get the goods they need as quickly as possible so they can get back to their daily lives.

Will dealers soon be able to run their showrooms without a sales team or F&I staff?

Not likely. The purpose of Amazon Go isn’t to eliminate staff, but instead to ease the process and delight the customer by structuring their locations to provide a quick and easy transaction.

Dealers might be able to relate to this approach when a customer leaves their lot empty handed, only to take their business to the dealership down the street to find the right make and model, or a lower price. On top of this, the car-buying process is infamous for being a multi-hour negotiation that can leave the salesperson and buyer exhausted after hours of talking about pricing, features and financing.

Both of these customer pain points can be remedied with existing technology today. Working with customers and a sophisticated inventory manager can help find the right make and model, and track popular configurations to proactively stock top-selling vehicles. Beyond this, transparent pricing and financing will help ease the buying process, leaving everyone involved in the transaction happy and the customer feeling like their new purchase was a great value.

Dealership Showrooms: A No-Pressure Destination

With their new chain of physical bookstores, Amazon is tackling another element of customer service: creating a warm and welcoming environment for customers to browse and buy books. This tactic will help the company capitalize on both the e-commerce side of book buying through their massive website, while finally catering to customers who prefer to visit physical stores to discover new novels and get recommendations.

General Managers can take this approach back to their rooftops, transforming the showroom floor into a warm and welcoming destination; both for customers looking to leave with a vehicle that day as well as curious buyers who may want to kick the tires before going through the full purchasing funnel.

Retail automotive startups are also capitalizing on creating unique experiences for car buyers. E-Commerce leader Carvana is known for it’s all-online approach to used car sales, but has recently introduced automated car vending machines in Houston and Nashville. Carvana has staff onsite to answer questions before handing over a coin that the customer inserts into the vending machine that delivers their vehicle through their robotic garage. It might be gimmicky, but Carvana has seen great interest in their unique take on delivery.

‘People responded so positively to our Nashville vending machine that we knew we had to bring the experience to additional markets,’ Ernie Garcia, founder and CEO of Carvana explained to VentureBeat. ‘Houston is a natural fit for a car vending machine, and we are thrilled to be able to offer customers this unique and, we hope, memorable pick-up option.” 

Planning For Tomorrow’s Economy, Today

Amazon and other technology leaders are continuing to disrupt the traditional retail space. The savviest dealers will jump on these trends ahead of anyone else in retail automotive, but it’ll take an investment into infrastructure and human capital to make these a success. 

To truly give customers a white-glove treatment at any point in the customer buying cycle, dealers need to look for a new kind of tech-savvy, polished professional to staff the showroom floor: the Product Specialist. Dealerships already using product specialists to lead the sales conversation with customers have realized higher sales volume, more upgrades, and increased referrals and repeat customers. This is a result of the Product Specialist treating the sale as a way to find the right vehicle solution for the customer – where traditional sales roles may be more focused on simply moving volume off the lot.

Learn more about finding and hiring great product specialists from our recent eBook:

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