Supercharging Vehicle Sales During the Recovery Phase

COVID-19 | May 26, 2020

Author: Doug Van Sach, VP of Strategy & Analytics

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As auto sales start to rebound across the country, auto retailers may be tempted to slowly ramp up their marketing investment until customers return in larger numbers. Our research into the state of recovery in the auto industry during the COVID-19 crisis identified some specific challenges with the wait-and-see approach that may stifle a fast recovery. Affinitiv evaluated the sales trends across 1,800 auto retailers in the US to understand the current level of recovery and to help retailers better manage their business throughout the recovery phase. Based on the findings of our study, retailers need to proactively manage key segments of their local market to ensure they recapture all of their lost business and avoid losing customers to competitors.

Alleviate Concerns of Older Consumers

While sales in early May were only down 11% on average across much of the nation, specific groups of customers were slower to return to the market. In particular, customers aged 45 or older brought down sales across the industry. In contrast, younger customers, who were more likely to be impacted financially by the COVID-19 crisis, are re-entering the market at a faster rate and taking advantage of the strong incentives offered by manufacturers.

One of the primary reasons for the delay relates to concerns when visiting a retailer for a test drive. Based on an Affinitiv survey of 900 auto consumers conducted during the COVID-19 crisis, 36% of older customers delayed their vehicle purchase to avoid a test drive compared to only 24% of younger consumers. A key opportunity for retailers is to implement policies that keep customers safe when they visit for a test drive and ensure customers are made aware of those policies during every touchpoint of the buying process. The top policies that made consumers more likely to visit for a test drive included requiring employees to wear face masks, enhanced sanitization of frequently touched surfaces, and cleaning vehicles after each use.

Attract Nearby Shoppers

Another opportunity for auto retailers is to focus on customers within a specific proximity to their location.  Our research found customers located within 20 miles of an auto retailer were significantly slower to re-enter the market and buy cars. Nearby customers are particularly important since they represent approximately 70% of a typical auto retailer’s sales volume.

Retailers need to invest more marketing dollars into customers in the local trade area to overcome the negative trend. Promoting at-home services, such as pick-up of trade-ins and delivery of vehicles for test drives and after purchase, is one way to attract local customers, since those strategies are easier to execute for nearby customers than for customers that live farther away.

Auto retailers have an opportunity to dramatically change the trajectory of their recovery and recover faster than their competitors. By focusing their marketing investment and tailoring their messaging on specific segments of customers who are slower to return, such as older customers and those located closer to the store, retailers can accelerate their growth during the critical recovery phase of COVID-19 and get back to positive profitability sooner. Retailers who act quickly to capture this opportunity will reap the rewards and rapidly build market share as the economy recovers. 

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