In the last few years we know the car retail sales landscape has changed at an amazingly fast rate making the job dealerships do so much more difficult.

Line up of cars on a forecourt

With consumers now having access to information across multiple marketing channels and being more clued up on a brands product range long before they enter the showroom, major changes are needed to the traditional retail sales model.

Equally customers take far more notice of reviews, looking for opinions of other consumers and their experiences with the brand, and indeed the dealership they bought from.

So, for dealerships, in my humble opinion, there is a need to understand and welcome the major advances in digital technology and, with the help of the brand (manufacturer), necessitating major changes to the traditional retail sales model and processes.

Marketing and communications need to be adapted to ensure consumers’ needs are being met well away from the showroom and forecourt, using things like 360 video, instant messaging, social media (currently very poorly utilised by many), customer reviews/feedback, online valuations and virtual reality.

With consumers having access to information globally as well as locally, and most of the early retail engagement takes place online, with customers expecting fast, knowledgeable responses to any questions, so they can arrive at the dealership, more or less, ready to buy!


That said, it is my opinion the days of the commission-driven salesperson are virtually gone … with ‘product experts’ now needed to validate the purchase decision by understanding the customer’s needs and lifestyle – not just knowing what all the buttons do – and explain the benefits and how the car will make the customers lives easier and better.

The commitment therefore is to build the relationship, looking after the customer throughout the ownership lifecycle – spanning servicing, parts and accessories – and by keeping in touch, ensuring that the customer is encouraged and wants buy again, becoming an advocate for the dealership business and brand.

This doesn’t mean dealers and the art of sales is becoming obsolete, but the opportunity needs to be seized to adapt some of those outdated business models to create environments to immerse customers into the brand and experience products in comfortable surroundings, thus making the whole buying experience a pleasant one.

We have also seen the rise of the ‘online purchase’ from both the brands, dealerships and dedicated third parties like Cazoo, Cinch and Carwow, which will no doubt affect how the market works.

Is the traditional way of buying cars better or is it the online way? Which of these two paths to new-car ownership results in a lower price? More importantly perhaps, which one will take the least amount of time? We must however never forget that people buy from people, and if the buying experience is a pleasant one, dealerships can survive the change.

Perhaps spend some time evaluating your current business model, note where there may be issues or where things can be improved? It’s not an easy, quick fix, but in most cases it’s a culture change … but the benefits are there to be had and that is good for the long-term future.

Andy Sarson has worked in marketing roles for some of the biggest automotive brands in the UK over the last 30 years.

His experience has included manufacturers and dealerships in both the car and commercial vehicle markets.