Why the role of the dealership remains crucial

Weekly poll: Four out of five buyers still want to take test drives, with 70% saying they are reassured by retailers’ covid-19 safety measures

This is the latest report in a series of weekly updates for industry colleagues from Rachael Prasher, managing director of What Car? and Haymarket Automotive. Quoted poll data is from more than 8300 whatcar.com users.

The current Covid-19 crisis is far from over, but it’s already interesting to start noting where there has been significant change, possibly permanently, and where attitudes remain broadly similar to where they were.

One trend that is clear – despite all the speculation otherwise – is the ongoing importance of the dealership in the sales process.

For instance, 80% of 8300 in-market buyers polled by us last week say they would still want a test drive before purchasing, underlining the continued significance of that long-crucial part of the buying process, even in these challenging times.

It also highlights that 17% – almost one in five – buyers are less inclined to test drive than previously. How will OEMs and dealers prospect these potential customers? Well, the rise of digital showrooms, with live chat capability, is one interesting development that appears to have accelerated in significance in recent months.

It is clear that the willingness from the majority of buyers to test drive is driven by the work that has been done to demonstrate that coronavirus-safe practices are in place.

70% of our in-market buyers told us that the measures dealers have taken to reduce the risk represented by the Covid-19 virus are either important or very important to them. Customers are greatly reassured by seeing the effort dealers have put in to protect both staff and buyers.

However, there also remains an impatience from would-be customers with retailers not responding to their enquiries, with little or no evidence of there being any kind of allowance for short-staffing caused by furlough, or for time taken up working around current restrictions.

The trend that 68% of buyers tell us that they wouldn’t chase a dealer over an enquiry at all continues, with 45% rating dealer response time as “very important” to their decision on where to purchase from.

This is especially important in the current climate, as nearly 20% of buyers tell us that they are entering showrooms – be these virtual or real – looking to change their car, and are working from longer shortlists of potential purchases than they would before lockdown.