In a 1996 paper called “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” published by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, John Perry Barlow coined the term “digital native” to describe a person who has grown up in the digital age. This person does not have to learn the lexicon and gain familiarity with digital systems – they’ve grown up with them.
When you use digital, interactive, and transparent devices to engage Gen Z’s hands and minds in the product evaluation and decision process, they will feel in control — a high need for the Gen Z car buyer.
That was more than 20 years ago, and the hyper-digital Gen Z consumer is now rapidly replacing digital-native shoppers and, increasingly, the digital pathfinders, Boomers, who had to learn to embrace and utilize the emerging technology. Gen Z is projected to be 45% of the workforce this year, and as they are buying vehicles, they are connecting with dealers, typically first by digital means, and then by phone or in-person.
Approximately 63% of this group, made up of men and women born since 1996, will buy a used car rather than a new model, according to the Wall Street Journal. Used car popularity with Gen Z may be one reason that Lending Tree reports this generation has the least and the lowest auto debt, with the median loan balance being $13,666.
Gen Z makes up a considerable part of the population — about 90.55 million, according to statistics company Statista. And they’re getting ready to drive — one-third of the generation was of car-buying age as of last summer, a Ford Motor Company blog reports.
Pew Research called these consumers the “always-on” generation. “By the time they were in their teens…they connected with the web through mobile devices, WiFi, and high-bandwidth cellular,” Pew noted in early 2019.
It may be surprising to some, but the Marchex Institute, a mobile advertising analytics company, reported that its research revealed Gen Z shoppers “do not prefer digital-only interactions.” Instead, they’re a “click-to-call” shopper after first completing their research online. Thus, these consumers are inclined to interact with you across multiple platforms — digital retail, mobile, and in-person.
Based on these data points, two actions should be considered:
- How are you addressing your store’s digital footprint to enable Gen Z to have convenient access to your F&I product offerings, using the connection and communications platforms they prefer?
- What modifications to your in-store customer engagement practices should be adjusted or reinvented to put Gen Z at ease and feel in control and well attended to when they visit the showroom?
Online magazine Retail TouchPoints, citing data from the IBM Institute for Business Value gathered in collaboration with the National Retail Federation, provides insight into these buyers’ engagement expectations:
- 66% regularly shop brick and mortar stores
- 75% say mobile is critical to their shopping habits
- 48% use mobile apps to shop
- 49% said “ability to find what I want quickly” is important
- 36% want speedy shopping
When it comes to F&I, these buyer preferences suggest:
- No More Digital Retail Excuses — Migrate variable and fixed operations to digital. Though end-to-end digital retail is the industry’s goal, remember these consumers still ask to engage with businesses in person. Make F&I product information, menus, and purchase options accessible online and on mobile devices to aid their ability to research, make comparisons, and push to their social network to get their communities’ endorsement.
- Educate and Differentiate Online — Push your product presentation online. Provide valuable product and product value insight using PDF documents, infographics, informational videos, and chat services to engage Gen Z where they shop. Engage them in interactive lifestyle and risk surveys to more confidently match products to their needs. Push these digital merchandising tools to them as you gather contact information.
- Be Where They Look (and Shop) — Reach this “always-on” buyer across multiple channels, using AI, chatbots, or virtual assistants on your website; social media; car-listing sites; and everywhere else Gen Z researches inventory and dealerships, to keep the conversation with your dealership moving forward.
- Put Them In Control — Provide web and mobile-enabled product menus that Gen Z can access on their time, at their pace, “playing” with options that interest them. Restaurants that do so for their business are having upsell success. “If a common addition to a cheeseburger is bacon, a kiosk can offer messaging that gives customers the chance to add bacon to their burger for an upcharge,” according to the blog post, “How Do Self Service Kiosks Impact Sales?” at TouchSuite.com, a point-of-sale technologies provider.
- Be Transparent — This means full disclosure, a complete explanation of any documents or paperwork you ask them to sign, and consistent messaging and pricing — from online messaging to the prices they’re quoted by the F&I office.
- Improve Phone Skills — The Marchex study reported that Gen Z consumers are 60% more likely to hang up the phone if not answered within 45 seconds — and are 30% more likely to curse if they feel their needs are not being met. Don’t give them a reason to curse.
- Reinvent Your Meet-and-Greet — Assume these consumers have already done their homework and made their decisions — but are still open to you suggesting options. Teach and show them, but answer them quickly, sharing accurate and reliable content. Put on a service-first attitude. Gen Z visits stores because they value high-touch as an essential complement to the high-tech they use first to connect.
Dealers today have a choice of F&I technologies to engage, satisfy, and sell to Gen Z buyers. Use yours to educate this audience to help them understand what your products do and how they will benefit from their purchase — and do this online across multiple communications channels.
When you use digital, interactive, and transparent devices to engage Gen Z’s hands and minds in the product evaluation and decision process, they will feel in control — a high need for the Gen Z car buyer. Provide consumers with an individualized product matched to their risk and lifestyle characteristics, and your product penetration and PVR will increase.
Imran Mussani is vice president of MaximTrak Operations for RouteOne Holdings LLC.
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