New year’s resolutions: How car dealers can excel in 2021 according to industry experts

As one of the strangest years on record draws to a close, starting fresh in the New Year will be a focus for many car dealers.

Although plenty will want to start moving on or returning to normal, others have completely changed the way they work.

There have been plenty of lessons learned in 2020, so we asked some of the businesses working with car dealerships every day for their advice when starting the New Year.

Here are some key pieces of advice from a selection of automotive industry experts.

Keep what made you more efficient

Laura Cannon, co-founder of Cartotrade

There are many parts of 2020 that we will all want to forget, but don’t let it be the things that made your business work more efficiently.

For example, appointment-only may have proved to be a more effective use of your time, the increased detail in your retail ads may have helped you sell more vehicles or the right supplier you finally had time to try might have saved and made you money.

Whatever it was that worked for you – don’t forget it when ‘normality’ returns.

Service wins the game

John Hughes, MD for Mann Island Finance 

My recommended resolution for dealers is to be obsessive – business-wide – about outstanding service, everywhere, every time, no exceptions.

For too long, our industry has focused, unhealthily, on price. A crucial learning point in 2020 has been the value of amazing service.

Additionally, I’d recommend putting extra time and effort into building/promoting your business’s personality and commitment to outstanding service, notably through digital channels.

Improve your digital experience

Shaun Harris, commercial director at Codeweavers

My recommendation for a New Years’ resolution would be to continue improvements to the customers’ digital experience that many dealers have started in 2020.

Thankfully with the vaccine rollout, there is light at the end of the tunnel in regards to the pandemic but it will have a long-lasting effect on consumer behaviour.

As we have seen in general retail the companies that survived had strong omnichannel offerings and this will be the case for motor retail moving forward.

Don’t just rely on a buy button or reservation function, these only work if the trust is built in your online journey so communication is important as is the digital presentation of your stock.

Let customers buy their way

Mat Moakes, CEO of Heycar

If there’s one thing the coronavirus outbreak has conclusively proved – it’s that car-buyers’ expectations and behaviour have decisively shifted.

Dealers have been impressively swift to adapt to these changing habits by offering more listings with videos, contactless deliveries and the ability to arrange finance agreements online.

Now car buyers want to buy their way. Some will continue to want that hands-on interaction of a physical showroom, while others will want to browse while watching Match of the Day, buy before dropping the kids off at school and have their new car delivered directly at a time that suits them.

But in the New Year the industry can’t afford to take its foot off the pedal. Continuing to improve the digital car-buying experience will be key to a successful 2021.

Work on having great online presence

Simona Staykova, marketing assistant at First Response Finance

This year has brought many uncertainties, with the biggest for dealers being the need to close their dealerships. Lots of businesses used this time to focus on their digital shop window, which helped them maintain relationships with their customers.

Our advice would be to keep building your online presence by focusing on effective marketing but don’t forget to keep good car prep, good sales processes, and good aftercare!

It all works towards growing and improving the business, which in return can bring you more 5-star reviews. 

Consider connected retailing

James Tew, CEO, iVendi

During 2020, dealers have had to learn to become businesses that can switch between extremes of primarily online and showroom-based retail at a moment’s notice.

There is a high probability of this continuing into 2021, with dealers needing to provide an equally positive and complementary experience for buyers digitally and in person. This is likely to lead to a trend we are calling ‘connected retailing.’

Technology will be used to link retailer, lender and consumer at every stage of the buying process – research, decision and purchase. It’s going to be the retail model of the new normal, we believe.

Don’t return to old habits

Le Etta Pearce, CEO of Dealer Auction

If 2020 was the year we saw the mass adoption of digital marketplaces, then I think 2021 will be the year dealers will choose to keep on clicking rather than return to old habits.

So, I’d urge dealers to not forget the positive experiences of 2020 and pledge to make the things lockdown forced them to adopt – and that have served them well – a more permanent fixture.

That applies to every aspect of their business, not just how they buy and sell stock. And let’s also pledge to keep on caring for one another too, that’s been the very best outcome of this past year and something we must surely cling onto.

Build on the lessons learned in 2020

Liam Quegan, managing director of NextGear Capital

I’m not sure the new year should be about resolutions, rather to continue to build on the lessons learned during 2020.

My experience from talking to hundreds of dealers of all shapes and sizes throughout 2020 is that this year they have encountered change like never before, and as a result they’ve massively accelerated the speed at which they can learn, adapt and evolve.

This is a positive outcome from an otherwise bleak time. So, let’s not be preoccupied with yet more reinvention this new year but instead continue to execute on what’s already been started.

Invest in digital on all fronts

James Bush, sales director at Motorway

It may seem obvious, but 2021 is the year for dealers to invest in digital on all fronts. Whether that is embracing online sales, having better-quality videos and photos for their consumer-facing websites, or in increasing their online advertising budgets.

The pandemic has forced most used dealers to focus their businesses on click and collect and deliveries, but it’s also pushed them to look at online stock acquisition too.

With many physical auctions remaining shut, savvy dealers will look to digital marketplaces as the de-facto way to acquire better, higher-margin vehicles to retail that really help them stand out from the crowd. Stock quality will be key.

Source: New year’s resolutions: How car dealers can excel in 2021 according to industry experts