Driving the Market: What Millennials Look For When Buying Cars

Young and handsome hipster man, buying a new car with his girlfriend, from the car saloon.

How can you best maximize your chances for sales success and brand loyalty, vs. losing sales opportunities in both the short and long-term? For starters, this can be done by having a deeper understanding of the preferred car shopping experience that today’s customer is looking for, both online and offline, and then adjusting the dealership’s business practices accordingly. Today’s customer, who also happens to be the customer of tomorrow, are those who were born between 1977 and 2000 — commonly referred to as millennials. It is estimated that by 2020, 40% of new car buyers will be millennials; furthermore, according to a study by Brandwatch, 88% of current millennials use the internet to research a new car purchase.

Simply put, this means that a dealership’s sales and marketing team must ensure that their shopping experience, both online and off, is up-to-date.

So how can your dealership ensure that its online and offline experience is up-to-date for today’s potential customer, while staying true to your brand? It starts with understanding today’s customer, particularly the millennial, and doing what’s necessary to integrate the online and offline brand experience for them, in one seamless flow. And no, that doesn’t necessarily mean memes or viral videos (which, if used incorrectly, are the online equivalent of the giant inflatable green dancing tube man).

The Number One Thing a Millennial Customer Looks For Is…

When it comes to today’s technologically savvy customer, there is one universal truth regarding when they decide to come into your dealership, and that is:

They’ll do it after researching you online.

They’ll do it after they’ve confirmed whether they would feel good buying or leasing a vehicle from your dealership by checking online reviews. They’ll do it after reading or having conversations about your dealership on social media. And they’ll do it after processing what people are saying about you, including how you handle customer complaints or rants. That’s why it is crucial that you stay on top of properly managing your online brand reputation or, at very least, have a 3rd party help you manage it.

If you need more convincing, 82% of today’s customers will use third-party sites as their top source when reviewing a dealership. It was true in 2013, and it’s true today.

Our suggestion? Use 3rd party sites to your advantage. Showcase past and current customer reviews, and don’t be shy to ask for reviews either. Take pride in turning negative reviews into positive ones. Most importantly, take pride in the service aspect of your dealership. Because if there is one thing millennials look for, it is service. There is a reason that the most largest and most popular property rental business doesn’t own any property, and the largest and most popular transportation company doesn’t own any vehicles. They provide a service that puts the review system at the forefront.

More than ever, a potential customer wants to feel certain that their needs will be catered to. There is an idea floating about that car dealers are pushy and aggressive — and modern car buyers simply will not stand for it. The research process focuses on the service aspect so that the customer feels the dealership they choose is the right one for them, including the sales professionals who will be serving them. And these days, the evaluation of a business goes beyond service alone. Customers also want to see the human side of your business; namely your philosophy, and what sets your business apart.

That’s why customers look for a dealership that will inspire trust, one of the trends mentioned in the American Financial Services Association’s Vehicle Finance Conference held in conjunction with the 2018 National Automobile Dealers Association’s annual convention. Though this data is mined in the U.S., this particular result speaks more to a universal desire of customers in all areas of business. With so many choices for the savvy consumer, they have to trust the business, and trust that the business will do everything in their power to fix any issues.

What Else Can You Do?

The personalized shopping experience is at the forefront of the millennial customer’s mind. Find a way to make good on this, and you will stand out. The bottom line: it’s about helping them find the best car for their needs at that moment which, on the dealer’s side, can be accomplished via online marketing strategies like geo-fencing, and website tools like Notepad.

A dealership is no longer the primary place for gathering information and researching a vehicle — in the mind of today’s customer it is just a point of sale. When a potential customer has a pleasant brand experience online, they expect to have the same type of experience I.R.L. (“in real life” for the non-millennials). The dealership has to be a satisfying conclusion to their vehicle search. And in the event that they interact with a dealership representative in real-time, through a chat solution, they will associate their chat experience with the experience at the dealership. And that chat experience has a major impact on bringing in real leads: 70% of millennials have said they’ve contacted a dealership using text compared to 43% of their adult counterparts. Ensuring that whoever is responsible for handling chat interactions is attentive to the needs of the potential customer, will go a long way to bringing bodies into your dealership.

Saving time is another important item for the millennial customer, either when doing their research or when at the dealership. The last thing the modern customer wants is to spend more time than they think they should in the buying process. So if a dealer can help them complete items such as their credit application and financing options online before stepping foot into the dealership, you’ve saved them time, shortened the buying process, and created a happy customer. 

Another important item for the modern customer is that they get the sense that they are getting value when purchasing or leasing their vehicle, including easily accessible deals and promotions. If you have a deal, make it available across all channels and platforms; a millennial customer will be just as happy spending their money elsewhere if it makes their life easier. Not to mention millennial customers also come from a more environmentally conscious generation — the influx of electric and hybrid cars weren’t dreamt up by the older generation of automakers driving loud V8s. So then, it goes without saying, that things like the vehicle’s gas mileage and impact on the environment are important to millennials, just like a convenient and transparent financing process.

To sums things up, the customer of today (who will also be the customer for the immediate future) wants to feel that the dealer has their best interest at heart and knows what their current priorities are. Millennials can be a tricky and demanding bunch, but any business that stands still rather than move with the times is sure to be the business that gets left behind. Today’s customer wants a brand that engages them and caters to them by having their questions answered first. All this, so they can have a quick, painless, and simple car shopping experience. An effortless end-to-end experience that seamlessly blends the online world with the dealership experience.

Stay tuned — in part 2 of this post, I’ll address what dealers can do to adjust their business practices to the millennial’s priorities and expectations, in order to increase the chances of this huge demographic driving off of your lot, in one of your vehicles.

millennials finalizing a car buying experience

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