It seems like everywhere I turn people are talking about digital retailing. Talking about what is the future of digital retailing, the current disconnects between dealerships and their online customers, the never-ending comparison to Amazon and how customers want that type of experience.
However, no one is talking about what happens when a customer makes a mistake in their purchase. It is one thing to purchase a pair of shoes on Amazon that you have never tried on, because you have the confidence that if you do not like the shoes you can return them for a full refund. And if there is a problem with the return, the most you could lose is a relatively small amount of money.
Now, what happens with a car purchase? Is a customer going to contact the dealer, or click a button on the dealership website and out prints a return label to ship the car back? And then what happens to the car. It is now used. Are consumers going to treat these returned vehicles as new, or are they going to look at them as the used vehicles they now have become and want a significant discount?
I know people are going to say that they have been offering return policies for years, and they have never had someone return a vehicle. However, this is going to be very different because of the lack of human interaction by the salesperson and sales management.
Removing the salesperson and management consultations, advice, and guidance will lead to customers making mistakes, purchasing vehicles are not what the customers thought they would be. This is guaranteed to happen because Customers Don’t Know What They Don’t Know.
I know this from personal experience. When my wife was pregnant with my youngest son, we determined we needed a new SUV that would allow for two full-size car seats in the middle row with the ability to move the seats forward enough to allow my six-foot teenager to get in the rear seat without removing the car seats. My wife began her research. After tens of hours, if not hundreds or hours, of research she determined the perfect vehicle for us. A 2020 Honda Pilot, EX-L with captain’s chairs. Being in the industry, I contact a friend of mine at a local Honda dealer, negotiated a deal over the phone, went to the dealership to sign the paperwork, and take delivery. I never drove the car prior to deliver, why would I, it was not going to be my car. I was at the dealership for literally less than 15 minutes, and I was driving off. It was as close to an instant purchase experience as you can get.
Shortly after arriving home, and my wife playing around with her new car, she comes inside to tell me that the seats will not move forward with the car seats installed. They one thing we bought the car for, it will not do. As customers, my wife and I did not know what we did not know.
So, what happens next, is it a fifty-thousand-dollar mistake? Do I try to return the vehicle, even though it was our fault for not determining that the vehicle would do what we wanted prior to purchase? My family and I learned to live with the inconveniences that come with the mistake, and we have moved on. However, this experience really taught me a lesson about how a customer can do all the research online they want to, and they can still make a mistake.
With my 30 years of automotive retail, I know the majority of customers would have wanted to return the vehicle, or they would want an exchange, or they would cause a customer service nightmare for the dealership. Even knowing the whole time, it was their fault they purchased the wrong vehicle.
In a digital retailing environment, how are situations like this going to be handled? How are dealers and manufactures going to be able to deliver a world class customer experience when it is the customers that are making the mistakes and expecting the dealer or manufacture to clean them up?
Don’t get me wrong, I believe customers wants and deserves a better buying experience, however I do not believe the Amazon model is the answer. Creating an easy, transparent sales process, that both customer and dealership personnel are on the same page and is mutually beneficially to both parties is at least a good start.