No one planned, or could have planned, for the recent events surrounding the COVID-19 outbreak. While most dealers were busy trying to grasp digital retailing or attempting to hire technicians, no one saw what was on the horizon. Now dealers and automotive workers are being forced to change their strategy to address the results of a global pandemic that has shut down numerous cities and limited the automotive business.
Recently, Affinitiv conducted a survey regarding current dealership business, strategy, and the impact caused by the pandemic. The results made one thing clear—employees are the heart of the operation. Management is most worried about their employees’ health and jobs, along with how they are going to return staff to normalcy once things stabilize. While employee wages and headcount were the first items to be reduced—and more than 65% of dealers claimed to have made some reduction—employees were also the number one concern of the dealer.
Concern for the health and well-being of the customer was also top priority. Dealers are going above and beyond, increasing budgets to keep showrooms clean, providing alternative ways for people to schedule appointments, and allowing for contactless appointments. In an earlier survey done at the close of 2019, we asked dealers, “What is your biggest priority going into 2020?” Four percent answered digital retailing. When asked today, 71% put a focus on digital retailing and being able to get the vehicle to and from their customer without the customer ever having to leave their home. On the service side, 84% were focusing on vehicle pickup and drop-off services to accomplish the same goal.
While budget changes and reductions have been unavoidable in this situation, more than half of the dealers surveyed are leaving their marketing budgets as is for the time being. Some reasoning behind this may be that, when asked when they expect to recover from the economic effects of COVID-19, most dealers believe it will be a quick turnaround (e.g. 1-6 months), while 33% believed it would take up to 12 months to recover. Another possibility for untouched marketing budgets is that dealers are focusing on bringing any type of revenue into the dealership, and with a reduction of hours, closed showrooms, and a peak in missed service appointments, it is not as easy as it was a month ago.
So what marketing is working during the current climate? Many dealers have increased spend in call center campaigns as well as increased email campaigns. Both are being used to educate customers on safety practices taking place at the dealership and keep the customer informed. While most are talking about how they are keeping showrooms and service departments clean and disinfected, there has also been an increase in promoting alternative forms of payment, such as online payment, to limit the use of cash or credit cards.
At the end of the day, the current economic climate is being taken very seriously. While most are concerned with revenue and when business can return to a normal operating structure, human safety and health outweigh this, proving that without our customers or employees, we have no business to be concerned about.
COVID-19 | April 15, 2020