Ford Dealers Adapt to New Consumer Preferences, Shopping Attitudes by Strengthening Online Tools and Capabilities

At Tallahassee Ford-Lincoln in Florida, a mobile repair unit is on the road helping three or four customers a day, heading to their homes to assist with routine maintenance and minor repairs.

Older and immunocompromised customers make up about 75 percent of their current mobile repair unit workload, says Greg Whitworth, service manager, but interest is growing from all areas. The mobile repair unit has been active since March.

It’s all part of the shifting norms emerging as consumers embrace new attitudes because of COVID-19 fears and stay-at-home orders. Businesses, including vehicle dealerships, are pivoting quickly to meet the needs of customers for no-touch sales and service options and digital experiences.

Ford has been working diligently to help its dealer network adapt and be more agile and accessible to customers.

“We are determined to overcommunicate with our dealers and give them the tools and capabilities to see them through this,” said Mark LaNeve, vice president, U.S. marketing, sales and service. “Our strong relationship serves us well in times like these, as we make every effort to continue business where possible, while still keeping health and safety our top priority.”

Dealers received a digital COVID-19 toolkit in March, complete with resources, guidelines and protocols to be followed during the pandemic. The toolkit enables dealers to engage with customers remotely by leveraging the most popular social app platforms to do walk arounds, answer customer questions in real time, demonstrate technology features and more.

Ford also started weekly broadcasts to all U.S. dealers to share timely information, advice and best practices. During the first broadcast, dealers were encouraged to move their business online, especially for sales development, remote pick-up and delivery for service and new vehicle purchases, and ensuring all vehicles are cleaned and sanitized for customers’ peace of mind.

Dealers also have begun actively promoting services like remote pick-up and delivery and mobile service on their websites, said Matt VanDyke, U.S. Marketing Director, and customers have been responding positively to the new offerings.

“Since late March, we’ve seen online sales leads and new credit applications go up substantially,” he said. “Remote sales delivery utilization rates are increasing as well, and that gives us confidence that sales will bounce back quickly once the stay-at-home orders are lifted.”

While Ford is giving dealers worldwide the tools they need to keep their businesses running during the crisis, it’s also looking to build long-term digital solutions for the entire end-to-end customer journey that will prepare them for the new customer habits that emerge.

“We know many customers still prefer to come into the dealer showroom, but a growing number in many countries say they’re comfortable buying a vehicle online,” said Scott Kelly, Global Digital Manager. “We’re seeing customer behaviors change across the board to leverage convenient services and online options, and these trends are likely to continue even after the crisis.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic is definitely driving the need for quicker adoption of innovative digital solutions,” said LaNeve. “For instance, we have extended our partnership between Ford Credit and AutoFi to accelerate dealer capabilities with a Digital Retailing tool that enables a customer to complete a vehicle transaction remotely with their preferred dealership.”

“I believe that when we get to the other side of this, our dealer relationships will be stronger than ever,” he said. “Ford is a family business, and family supports each other.”

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Dealers, for their part, are proving they’re up to the task:

 

Ford has more than 3,000 dealers in the U.S. and currently 93 percent of them are offering virtual online sales processes including virtual product walk-arounds, video chats, online credit applications and DocuSign capabilities.

89 percent of dealers are offering pickup and delivery for services.

92 percent of dealers are offering home delivery for new purchases.

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