The COVID-19 pandemic has forced businesses to rethink how they operate. Pivoting their operations, whether it’s a whole new product or service, or how they deliver their existing one, may ensure survival of the most adaptive business.

There’s nothing quite like a day of tyre kickers coming through a car yard. A Saturday where every man and his dog has decided they’re buying a new car, and meandering through the lot, opening every car door and fiddling with the volume button on the car radio. But the pandemic changed that.

Lockdown means no pleasant meandering, no possible sources of infection, and no sales. While some lockdowns allow a customer to look, the dealer isn’t open, and they can only peer in the windows- not conducive to convincing you to buy. Worldwide, Toyota has warned of a potential 80% collapse of its operational profits in the next 12 months. Some car sales companies simply cannot afford to put their business on ice for a year.

So, some dealers have taken their sales online.

Virtual sales help car dealers

COVID-19 has resulted in a range of scenarios. Some people have put their new car dreams on hold, while finances are uncertain. Some people are waiting until life resumes normal again before they buy. Others have downsized, wanting a smaller car or a lesser brand. And some people still want their new car, regardless of the virus.

While it’s never as good as actually seeing the car and taking it for a spin, virtual sales yards are getting eyes on the vehicles, without customers leaving the comfort of their home. Until the showroom can open, this is ensuring there’s interest and potential sales lined up. Some people are buying their new cars without even taking a test drive, and getting the car dropped off, completely non-contact.

How to set up a virtual showroom

While there are online auction sites, these take a cut of the price, making it less financially viable. However, it’s simple to set up your own website. Think about the following things:

Sales categories: How will you list cars? By brand, model, size or purpose? While some people know exactly that they want a Jeep, some people go shopping looking for a people mover, or a van. Having cross-categories, so people can search a variety of ways, is the best.

Photography: You need good quality images of the car from all angles, inside and out. Think about what people are most interested in when they buy a car- the dashboard, or the engine. It’s better to have too many photos than not enough. Make sure the photos are clean, crisp, and the colours are correct.

Description: The details of the car should be clearly listed. Make, model, features, engine size, any extras it comes with, and any other information people require. Writing a brief description about the car, how it handles, the way it looks and the general wear and tear is important too. Once again, more information is good, people can just discount what they don’t need.

Video: A video walkthrough of the car can provide loads of information you may not get from the photos or description. A salesman can also give a patter about the car at the same time, ending with ‘click on the buy now button to buy, or give us a call to find out more’.

Next steps: If you want people to be able to buy online, you’ll need extra functionality. Paperwork including finance must be able to be completed securely online. How will you arrange delivery? What about car insurance?

Advertising: How do you get the word out that you’re selling online? While online auction sites will eat in your profits, at least people know they are there, and no advertisement is required. For a dealer setting up an online store, you’ll need a plan for marketing. Whether it’s investing in SEO, Facebook ads, radio or TV ads, make sure you’re targeting where your potential market are.

This could be a new sales funnel

Even if you’re not making the entire transaction digital- after all, some people want their test drive—this is a great way to get people on the lot. Not only is it increasing your digital presence and bringing more customers to your website, but it’s bringing people onto the lot and already doing most the work for you.

By the time someone has seen the car online, checked out the specs, the video and read the sales information, most of the work has already been done. They’ve gone away, compared to other cars, and already decided this car is worth checking out in person. They are no longer tyre kickers; they are educated and motivated buyers. So when you can open your yard fully, there’s already plenty of people, waiting to buy.

Setting up a website can be a considerable time and money investment, but it might mean you survive the pandemic a bit better than your competitors.