covid car dealers

COVID-19 and Automotive – What We Know, What’s Working and What’s Next

COVID-19 is quickly spreading through the country. As this happens, businesses deemed non-essential are shutting their doors to comply with state and national guidelines. This includes car dealerships.

Last week, we shared what dealers should be doing during the pandemic to keep business as normalized as possible. Now, we have more information on what’s happening, what’s working and what’s to come.

Car Dealer Website Data During COVID-19

First off, organic traffic has taken a dip since last week overall, but it largely matters where you are and what your business specializes in.

Areas that are heavily affected by the virus, the “hot spots” that we hear about, have been hit the hardest. While general online traffic and usage is up overall in these areas, an overwhelming percentage has been consumed by coverage of the Coronavirus. These areas are somewhat in a panic, leaving less active car shoppers to peruse the net, meaning car dealership traffic has dropped. You can see this from a California dealer below.

website traffic coronavirus
Meanwhile, areas that are not largely affected by the Coronavirus at this point are seeing fairly steady numbers. Many of these potential consumers are still sheltered in, but without the virus hitting home, they are utilizing more typical online behavior, including visiting car dealership websites. The month-over-month data below for a more rural dealerships shows this.

In terms of dealership types that are most affected, import and luxury dealers have seen steeper declines than domestic and independent dealerships. But, these also fluctuate depending on region.

At the same time as the decrease in traffic, overall leads have slowed down as well. Mirroring the above, the more directly affected by the virus the dealership region is, the greater effect on leads.

Create Site Messaging to Address COVID-19

While dealer traffic is fluctuating, consumers are still out there. And with foot traffic not allowed, your website and online sales strategy is more important than ever.

The first thing every dealership must do to make its online presence trustworthy is to create messaging around COVID-19.

At DealerFire, we proactively approached our clients on this immediately. At the very basic level, your website needs to tell consumers what you are doing to address the situation, on several levels.

  • What are you doing to clean the dealership and the cars?
  • Are you open? If not, is your service department open?
  • Do you offer an online test drive and sales component?

The messaging of all of this should match your brand. Whether it’s a homepage slide, announcement bar, custom landing page or on-site video, make it personal and unique to you. Every dealer has some messaging up. This is a chance to make consumers feel comfortable with you and your process of selling them a car during an uncertain time.

test drive
Some dealerships have chosen to focus more on their service centers, as these parts of the business are often classified as essential. And given that individuals, many essential workers themselves, still do need to get to work, there is a need for vehicle service.

Once again, messaging is key here, as people want to know that anyone that is in and around their car hasn’t put them at risk of infection. Opportunities arise to tell a story and set your brand apart as caring and professional.

Update Your Google My Business Page and Social Media Accounts

Your Google My Business (GMB) page really operates as a “mini website.” Whether you are aware or not, your GMB page generates a ton of on-site and off-site traffic. Therefore, this is another place that your response to COVID-19 should be front and center.

vip deliveryThings you should be doing to make sure GMB is giving consumers updated and relevant information:

  • Google Posts on the status of your business (Showroom Open? Service Center Open?)
  • Google Posts on your online shopping options
  • Update hours
  • Update services

Knowing the importance of GMB at a time like this, DealerFire is currently offering GMB Basics for free during the crisis for any current Content SEO customer.

In the same way, you can create a post on social media about your response to COVID-19 and current offerings and pin it to the top of your page. Keep people up to date on your social media accounts, and engage with customers looking for more information.

Opportunities to Promote Current Incentives and Online Selling

For those who have the ability to purchase a vehicle, there are some amazing OEM incentives and payment deferments happening.
For this reason – and the fact that so many dealers are dropping advertising budgets – it’s an intriguing time to stay in the game.

From an SEO and paid search perspective, there is plenty to focus on from the OEMs with deals that haven’t been seen in recent years.
Paid can also offer an opportunity for you to utilize keywords that focus on your online sales approach. Keywords such as “buy a car online” and “test drive at home” are seeing a spike, with successful click-through. And due to the competition being less, cost-per-click for more competitive terms is also low.

It’s a tough time, and certainly understandable if paid search budget needs to be cut. If you keep some running, take into account where the cuts should be made and make every dollar count. Evaluating brand terms is a good place to start.

Delivery Test Drive and Online Selling is Working

We focused last week on some things that car dealerships could do to adjust to a completely online sales model. And for those that embraced the adoption, they are working.

test drive deliveryDelivery Test Drives is an integration between DealerFire websites and DealerSocket CRM that allows customers to schedule test drives online, and easily links the information to the CRM to set appointments for salespeople to follow up, completely automating the process for dealers. We’ve had multiple success stories, with one of our partners in Canada setting up eight at-home test drives this week and closing multiple deals. A California luxury dealer sold eight cars last Saturday with no showroom.

Even if the CRM integration isn’t an option, many have set up simple forms for delivery test drives, with strong action there as well. One of our hometown Wisconsin dealers has been using this functionality to success, and the entire dealer group is pacing sales that are only 20% under last month – quite a feat considering the state lockdown.

In addition, adoption of the full Precise Price digital retailing tool is up as well. One caution here is that it should be added with care – simply slapping on a digital retailing tool to get you through the pandemic isn’t the answer. This should be done with a full plan in place from start to finish. All of your dealership departments need to be onboard and treat this full online sale differently than a typical lead.
DealerSocket and DealerFire are rolling out a full virtual Strategic Growth Manager model to help with the full transition while travel and in-store installation is not an option.

What’s Next in Automotive During COVID-19?

While we can likely expect declines to be steady for a while in areas that are most heavily affected, and very possibly all over the U.S. and Canada depending on the spread of the virus, the prediction is that it will be short-lived in the grand scheme.

Even before COVID-19 is a part of the past, there will be a normalization of life as people adjust to the current world. At this point, traffic should rebound as web browsing stabilizes while the initial panic calms down. And as the nation starts to recover and truly get back to normal, many large ticket purchases – like automobiles – will bounce back in a big way.

How your dealership adapts and gets through the tough times will speak a lot for how you are set up for the future. While foot traffic at the dealership will return, the advances in online sales that you adapt to now will shorten the runway of full adoption as the industry continues to trend that way in the very near future.