Car Marketing in the Age of Digital Retail

By Jazel Auto Marketing

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We’re living in the Age of Digital Retail, and digital retail is all about the consumer. So much so that it is redefining how customers behave, and more importantly for the automotive industry, what they expect from their shopping interactions. Car marketing in a world dominated by digital retail needs to adapt to the rapidly shifting expectations of customers. Here’s how customer expectations are changing, and what that means for your car marketing.  


A Personal Experience

Digital retail experiences have set high user expectations across the board, but perhaps one of the most sharply defined differences between customers today and customers of the brick and mortar age is the expectation of a personal experience.

30 years ago, the most “personalized” experience with a large business you could expect was to have the customer service representative mispronounce your name while explaining that “No, sorry, that’s actually a Billing problem. That’s a different number you’ll have to call.”

Now, personalization means that the moment a shopper goes to download their next audiobook, Audible recommends books they’ll likely love.

Audible's recommendations.

As these helpful and convenient personalization measures begin to become the standard in digital retail, customers expectations also shift. While not all customers expect this level of specific personalization, 72% of consumers expect companies to understand their unique needs and expectations.

The penalty for not living up to these expectations is heavier than most business owners think. In an age where even huge corporations are competing to offer the most personal and tailored online shopping experience, 66% of consumers say they’re likely to switch brands if they feel treated like a number, not an individual.


Car Marketing Solutions — Personal Experiences

Car dealers don’t have to bend to the levels of personalization that websites like Amazon and Hulu do, after all, unless the customer is signing in, they are almost certainly not expecting you to have perfect recommendations ready to go. This doesn’t mean you can’t offer a personalized car marketing solution to your shoppers. Machine learning tools can help you merchandise your inventory and update vehicle selections as shoppers search. But you can offer a personal experience in a variety of ways.

One of these should certainly be adding a personal touch to your offers and incentives. In fact, 65% of customers report that their loyalty is influenced by the availability of personalized or exclusive offers and discounts. Your car marketing can be changed to reflect this desire. You can do this in a wide variety of ways, including:

  1. Integrating applicable incentives into your website pricing.
  2. Offer relevant and personalized coupons or discounts (“It’s your car’s birthday — 50% off service!”).
  3. Incentivize car shoppers based on their specific geographical shopping situation with geo-fencing and location targeting (ex: Out-of-Towner Deal: $1200 rebate).


Prediction and Anticipation

Everywhere we look online, businesses are going out of their way to anticipate our shopping needs — and be the ones to fulfill that. Digital retailers have already begun to set up automatic ordering and product subscriptions. In the not-so-distant future, our vehicles will probably be able to self-diagnose both mechanical and software problems and set their own times to be fixed, or to have a repair technician make a house or work call.

Now, automatic ordering and product subscriptions are awesome tools of convenience, but what these tech and digital shifts towards prediction really point to is a desire by shoppers to have their needs understood and anticipated. In fact, in recent years, the anticipation of their needs has shifted from being something shoppers like, to being something they expect. More than half of all customers expect companies to anticipate their needs and make accurate suggestions before contact. And why shouldn’t they? Google does.

In fact, the expectation that businesses will anticipate their needs is strong enough that half of customers are likely to switch brands if a company doesn’t satisfy in this department.


Car Marketing Solutions — Prediction and Anticipation

How do you anticipate your customer’s needs in car marketing?

Well, for a start, why not be like Google (at least in some ways)? Focus on helping your shoppers search, just like google does. Free-text search is the digital retail shopping search standard, and incorporating it into your site lets your shoppers know that you understand their shopping preferences and expectations. Extended search abilities like suggestive, predictive, and trending search can help you demonstrate your commitment to providing a smooth shopping experience that’s nearly indistinguishable from their digital retail environment.

You should also be using your CRM to the utmost ability, keeping tabs on customers and, yes, anticipating their future car-buying or service needs. For example, if your records indicate that someone’s recently-purchased used car should be coming up on a service milestone soon, your system can reach out to them with an offer for service. Does that sound like it involves some personalization? It should. Anticipating your customer’s needs should mean some appropriate personalization of your car marketing messaging.


Access Anywhere and Anytime

The age of digital retail means no inconvenient store hours, no shopping around only to find they don’t stock the product you’re looking for, and no need to go out of your way. The shopping experience hasn’t been so removed from brick and mortar since the heyday of the Sears Roebuck catalog. These days, shoppers can do it all (or almost all) from their mobile devices or computers.

88% of consumers now own a smartphone for personal use, and with that, they have come to expect convenient, location-independent access to a business online. In fact, 57% of customers say that it is absolutely critical or very important for companies to provide an easy-to-use mobile experience.

The dominion of mobile is upon us, and dealerships should already have fully embraced it.  


Car Marketing Solutions — Access Anywhere and Anytime

The most immediate solution for customers who expect access to you from anywhere (and any device) is to give them just that — access from anywhere. With more traffic coming from mobile than desktop, dealership websites need to be designed mobile-first, and support the favored behaviors of mobile shoppers.

The three most important mobile actions for shoppers are performing price comparisons, product comparison, and reading reviews — your car marketing efforts should reflect that. Shoppers should be able to quickly and easily compare vehicles from any device, and save them for later if a car grabs their interest.

Car marketing similarly needs to adjust to the inevitability of price comparison and mobile showrooming. Your price needs to stand out as the best option (whenever possible). This can be achieved with a variety of price-based vehicle merchandising, from custom dealership prices to integrated incentives.

The best car marketing strategy in response to shopper’s desire to access reviews from anywhere is to focus on online reputation management. As word of mouth continues to shift online, car marketing will only see a rise in the importance of reviews. Careful management of your Google My Business page can capitalize on this highly important mobile action.

Of course, not all of these actions are confined to your dealership website, which is why your car marketing must expand to cover…


Omnichannel Shopping Experiences

Excellent online experiences shouldn’t stop at mobile. The age of digital retail means the embrace of omnichannel car marketing. Omnichannel is a bit of a buzzword, but we would argue it is an important buzzword. Truly worth paying attention to. In essence, “omnichannel” means a type of retail strategy that integrates all methods shopping.

Three-quarters of customers expect consistent experiences across all channels — web, mobile, social, and in person. More worryingly for dealerships who haven’t started thinking omnichannel, 73% of consumers are likely to switch brands if their expectations of consistent experiences aren’t met.

The lesson here: Every channel matters, because it all adds up to a shoppers’ cumulative omnichannel experience. If you’ve somewhat written off social media because you just don’t see how’s contributing to your bottom line, you probably aren’t factoring in the customers lost because your Facebook banner is promoting a sale that ended two months ago.


Car Marketing Solutions — Omnichannel Shopping Experiences

Optimizing your car marketing for an omnichannel shopping experience might sound like a serious undertaking, but there are some relatively simple practical steps you can take.

First, ensure that all your online car marketing touch points are in tip-top shape. Your social media accounts, your Google my Business page and other review site profiles, and particularly your website aren’t going to be effective as part of an omnichannel experience if there is a seriously weak link.

Side Tip: We always recommend that car marketers pick and choose their social media and channels. You don’t need to be literally everywhere online. After all, people aren’t shopping for cars on every single platform. Omnichannel doesn’t mean spreading yourself thin to cover every social media platform, it means acing the most important shopping channels to your customers (and your dealership).

Once your channels have been optimized, make sure that they are connected. Include social buttons on your website, link to your website and review pages from your social media accounts, and generally make sure that no matter which car marketing channel your shopper is currently on, there is the option for a consistent and excellent experience in any of the other channels they might care to shop on.

A consistent experience is hard to pin down, but the best ways to achieve solid consistency, in general, are to keep branding similar (which most dealerships are already very good at), keep messaging consistent, and keep information accurate.

Accurate information across channels is essential. For auto dealers, one of the most important ways to keep consistent car marketing is to be consistent when it comes to price. At every point, show shoppers the pricing breakdown and what deals they can expect to receive. Inconsistent pricing is a major red flag to shoppers — even more so in a digital space.

Last, bring your website to your dealership. Use tablets during the sales process, arm your salespeople and let your customers browse on your devices. After all, you’ve invested in creating a powerful omnichannel car marketing strategy — make it work for you.


Consumer-Powered Shopping

Customers have the power, and they know it. 61% of customers say they feel significantly more empowered as a customer now than they did five years ago. The source of their empowerment is technology, and car shoppers are well aware of that fact.

Over half of consumers say that tech is redefining their behavior as a customer, and 70% of customers say that tech has made it easier than ever to take their business elsewhere. A single poor experience (on any channel, as we’ve covered) is all that it takes for shoppers to abandon one business in favor of another — which, as they know, they can find on their smartphone in approximately 15 seconds.

Digital retail exists in the environment where shoppers have the most power, and so naturally, the way that digital retail conducts sales differs enormously from the sales tactics of brick and mortar stores. Putting pressure on a shopper online doesn’t work, so digital retail takes on the role of shopping information curator.

Knowledge of their own power and the customer-centric sales practices of trend-setting digital retailers’ means car shoppers have high expectations of their interactions with a salesperson. Shoppers want sales staff to focus on their needs, not on making a quick sales, as well as be available when they need them, and treat them as a valued customer.

Those are shopping moments that digital retail has gotten exactly right. Dealerships have to adjust their car marketing play a similar role.


Car Marketing Solutions — Customer-Powered Shopping

Take a look again at any product on a good digital retail site — all the information on the site is devoted to descriptions and details, photos, specifics, and even sometimes user reviews and frequently asked questions. This is information curation — the selection and display of the most important and relevant information to a shopper — and it is what will help future-proof your car marketing in the age of digital retail.

Start with sales. Digital retail hasn’t ended the era of the salesperson, but it does mean that the role will shift, and in fact, has already shifted, to provide a different type of sale. Salespeople don’t hold the power anymore, and their new role needs to reflect that. Sales should take a curating approach rather than a selling one.

Of course, your car marketing doesn’t begin with sales, so this curation should apply to your full online presence, including, but not limited to social media, blog or post content, your Google my Business page, and of course, your website.

There are so many ways to take this approach to car marketing, we simply can’t go into them all here, but in general, all car marketing should strive to make the dealership a partner in the car buying process — a trustworthy source of useful and relevant information, not a buyer-trap to be avoided until the last possible second.



Digital retail is changing how dealerships have to think about their car marketing, and while that can be daunting and overwhelming, it is also an opportunity to rise above the competition. Opportunities to suddenly jump way ahead of major competitors don’t come around very often. We hope that the research and advice above give you some insight into the next steps for your dealership car marketing in the ever-changing digital retail landscape. We’ll leave you with one last piece of advice for the age of digital retail: Carpe Diem.