Over the Curb: Digital Retailing’s True Test

April 10, 2020

The car business isn’t the only industry operating outside its comfort zone. That’s why it’s OK that the industry’s at test-drive deliveries and service pickups and drop-offs.

By Gregory Arroyo

Over a two-and-a-half-day period to open the last week of March, the percentage of consumers who said they shopped and purchased online increased from 30% to 47%. However, “things haven’t been easy breezy” for those digital consumers.

According to the article I came across, more than 30% of those shoppers reported an issue with their purchase. They either couldn’t place an order (16%) or had to wait days for their order to be ready (17%).

The data, sourced from CivicScience and its survey-reporting platform, was published in Food Logistics, a magazine for the global food and beverage industries.

Yeah, we’re not the only retail segment operating outside of our comfort zone due to COVID-19. For supermarkets and their customers, that means a few speedbumps on that road to the sale.

For example, what if the brand of product a customer ordered is out of stock? Do you notify the customer of your dilemma, or do you make an executive decision and grab the more expensive brand and eliminate a few items from the customer’s order to make up the difference?

I’m guessing those were the questions swimming through the mind of my in-store shopper during my wife and I’s first online grocery-ordering experience. And he made an executive decision on at least two occasions.

Instead of the two gallons of milk we ordered (Hey, I have a growing boy), we got a gallon of the more expensive brand.

We also didn’t get the 16-pack of fruit roll-ups I wanted. Instead, we got a box of six.

And instead of the two packets of Tollhouse cookie dough I wanted, we got one pack of Simple Truth’s plant-based product.

Understanding the moment, we didn’t get mad, but we did have questions. Unfortunately, our shopper appeared, loaded our groceries, handed us our receipt, and disappeared without saying a word.

That’s the real reason the Food Logistics article caught my eye. The stats it contained reflected my experience. My order took a few days longer to get than initially promised, and the online experience was problematic.

So, yeah, I think a lot of industries are figuring it out, discovering potential speedbumps, and making adjustments along the way. That’s why it’s OK that, when it comes to digital retailing, we’re still at at-home test-drives, and service pickups and drop-offs.

But let’s not be in this situation again.

That was my takeaway after a recent discussion with Darren Militscher, a Dealersocket Strategic Growth Manager operating in the Northeast. He believes COVID-19 moved up our digital timeline by 18 to 24 months.

I believe there are two things in play right now — learning to operate outside of our comfort zone being one of them. The other is equally important to our digital future. And it has to do with the research I wrote about last November in “Why Digital Retail Is Like the Autonomous Vehicle.”

The inspiration for that blog entry was a poll of 2,001 U.S. consumers The Harris Poll conducted in February 2019 on behalf of Urban Science. Seven out of 10 respondents said they would never buy a vehicle without a dealership, which led Urban Science’s analysts to conclude that younger car buyers still desire the knowledge of a well-trained F&I professional.

The reason is finding the lowest price on some third-party lead site is one thing, but how does that price translate into a monthly finance or lease payment? An F&I manager can definitely help, but so can a digital retailing tool.

Folks, that’s what’s in play right now. There are customers right now wondering how General Motors’ recent financing offer — interest-free financing for 84 months and up to 120 days of deferred payments — means to their payments. I’d bet that’s even true in states where showrooms were forced to close.

Like my wife and I during our first online grocery-shopping experience, car buyers need to learn the process. By the way, that plant-based cookie dough wasn’t half bad.

Gregory Arroyo is the former editor of “F&I and Showroom” and “Auto Dealer Today” magazines. He now serves as senior manager of strategic content for DealerSocket. Email him at garroyo@dealersocket.com.