There is a lot of talk at the moment about post-pandemic life in Canada. Will it really change? Will ingrained habits really be supplanted by a different way of life? Will we genuinely change the way we buy cars? The same question has been brought up about COVID-19’s impact on car buying.
The current model of car buying, walking into a dealership, working with a salesperson and doing a deal was constantly being refined anyway. While social distancing currently makes this process difficult, it is not impossible and dealerships are adapting quickly to client requirements.
But people are coming back. People are beginning to browse car lots, test drive cars and are slowly starting to buy once more.
Reassurance of Cleanliness
The biggest factor in COVID-19’s impact on car buying that we have experienced so far is reassuring customers the cars are clean and safe to test drive. This involves talking to the customer, from a distance of course, showing the customer staff wiping down every surface in the car with antibacterial wipes and wearing masks and gloves.
Once customers are reassured of the safety of that car, they seem more than happy to test drive.
Bringing the Changes
The coronavirus situation has changed some things about the auto industry. It has forced all dealerships to up their ecommerce game. Many treated online as a poor second to in-person sales and that is definitely changing.
As is booking test drives. While you can call and arrange a test drive, some dealerships are also setting up online schedulers where buyers can book a time to test a car. A car that has been prepared and thoroughly cleaned beforehand and is ready to go. Other dealership groups such as Car Nation Canada have developed a returns policy allowing their customers to own and drive their vehicle and return or exchange at any time in the first 3 days.
This is a move in the right direction but not quite the complete change some have been predicting.
Some Things Never Change
Some people have said ‘we buy phones, clothes, household appliances and groceries online so why not cars?’ There’s a simple answer to that. A car requires that intangible feeling telling you it’s the right one for you.
In the same way you would never buy a house without smelling it, feeling it and giving it a good inspection first, you wouldn’t do that with a car. Unless you’re just buying the same model over and over again.
Buying a car is as much about how the car feels as what it performs and looks like. As much about the drive, how it holds the road, copes with different surfaces and how it makes you feel while behind the wheel. None of which can be portrayed effectively online.
So will COVID-19 change the way we buy cars? I think it will but in smaller ways than some are predicting. I think we will see more advances in online sales. More options for arranging test drives online or by phone, of being able to configure a car completely on the internet and perhaps talk to someone in sales via web chat.
We will also see more unaccompanied test drives.
I do not think this is the end of in-person sales. I think the resurgence in activity we have seen since reopening shows that there is still an appetite for getting up close to a car rather than staring at a picture on the screen, and overall – COVID-19’s impact on car buying will be small.
What do you think?