The UK is on a steady return to normal this year, with non-essential businesses such as trade dealerships allowed to reopen this week with safety guidelines in place.
However, the past year of COVID-19 lockdowns and restrictions has had a huge impact on the way many motor trade businesses operate. Dealers both big and small have had to adapt the way they’re selling cars in our ‘new normal’.
Click-and-collect services and online sales have had a massive surge, with around 37% of used car deals taking place online during the third UK lockdown – an enormous jump from the 15% figure at the same time in 2020, and just 10% in 2019.
According to data released by AA Cars, nearly 1 in 10 customers have bought – or considered buying – a car online without seeing it first. And, of those customers who bought a car without seeing it in person, 84% said they would do the same again.
The ability for customers to buy cars online isn’t a new development. For many dealerships, this was an option even before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, it could be that the pandemic has nudged many drivers into biting the bullet and buying online without seeing their new wheels first.
What does this mean for the future of car dealerships?
We can’t predict the future, but for those dealerships who only operate in person, we don’t think there’s a great deal to worry about.
There is still a huge 47% of customers who have said they would never buy a car without viewing it in person first in the AA Cars survey. Seeing a car first is still the preference for most buyers, and that’s not something that can be completely replicated online, whatever bells and whistles your website might have.
However, for those dealerships who have the option, it could be a good idea to have some kind of online selling option. Research released by GForces suggests that using a hybrid service or ‘omnichannel’ approach – selling cars both online and in person – could be the most effective way to boost sales, whilst also reducing transaction times and costs.
For those dealers who are already selling cars online, there are a couple of factors which customers look for when buying used cars on the web. At the top of the list, customers look for cars which have been inspected by a trusted company. In this case, it could be a good idea to partner with an independent inspection service for more effective sales.
It has also been recorded that customers are more likely to buy a used car online without seeing it first if they have the right to cancel or return the car free of charge.
In all, although the majority of drivers still prefer to see a car in person before making a purchase, we may see an ongoing increase in the number of people choosing to buy cars online. This could be labelled as an after-effect of the pandemic, but it could also reflect a wider lifestyle change as consumers naturally turn more towards online services.
Either way, we’re excited to see dealerships around the UK reopening for customers and getting back on track – whether that’s online or in person!
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