We have seen digital plans accelerated, and Europewide rollouts of new technology happen at pace.
But what lessons can be learned from the pandemic?
The pace of change was only possible by a new spirit of collaboration both within teams and across the sector.
Early on in the crisis, digital experts from global data providers to the UK's largest car sales platforms and lead management providers came together to understand how the market was changing and share best practices. It was an approach that helped accelerate change for all concerned.
There is no doubt that while the pandemic has sped up digital disruption by several years, what sits at the heart of all the programs is a desire to give the customer the best experience, whether online or in the dealership. Operations must have the flexibility to shape around the customer.
There is plenty of evidence of rapid change. The number of people who completed online reservations doubled during the first lockdown compared with the same period the previous year.
Online behavior has also started to mimic that seen in dealerships, with less time spent browsing as customers arrived at websites having done their research and ready to buy.
As customer behavior continues to evolve, it will be necessary for the manufacturers and dealers to anticipate change and adapt the process. A more flexible and modular approach to digital retailing will be required. Success will depend on having the right tools in place at the right time.
It may be an overused phrase, but in many ways data is the new oil that will drive the automotive industry. It will be crucial to understand where customers are ending the customer journey to enable retailers to follow-up and key to understand where changes need to be made to the online experience to smooth the purchase process.
With so many elements in play, it will be essential for all concerned parties to have a single point of truth that can inform quick decisions. It's a belief that informed the development of our conversion manager tool, which gives detailed data on every part of the customer journey.
The pace of change may feel like a temporary result of the pandemic. Still, there is plenty of evidence to suggest it is the new normal as the vehicles we drive, ownership models, and retail journeys continue to evolve in response to digital disruption.
The data point to an omnichannel future where buyers still value the experience of visiting a retailer but may choose to complete more of the journey remotely. Most importantly, they expect the shift between virtual and physical retail environments to be seamless.
The coming years will see car buyers expecting far more customization in the purchase process. Technology will enable the sales process to mold their preferences to create a unique experience for each customer.
In the shorter term, there are clear actions that dealers can take to drive sales and improve the buying process for the customer. It is essential that inquiries are followed up quickly for the lead to convert.
It is also vital to put in place social distancing measures that allow customers to check-in their vehicles for service and even complete their own part-exchange appraisal off-site. Buyers will value the convenience of these tools even after lockdown ends.
As a final thought, it is worth noting that car retailers often assume a level of industry knowledge in the motorist, which can create barriers to purchase. Every effort should be made to make everything as easy and as simple as possible.
The pandemic has created a once-in-a-generation opportunity for change, and the companies that embrace the technology available will reap the rewards.