The more things change

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The more things change, the less they actually do look the same. The funny thing about change, is it doesn’t tend to tap you on the shoulder.

It comes in increments. Some small, some massive. But they add up. When enough change hits an industry, it can lead to transformative change. The auto retail industry is in the midst of a massive shift in the way it operates and serves consumers.

The evidence of this is all around us. I’ve had countless conversations in recent months with dealers and OEMs about the changing retail climate. Dealers are smart. OEMs are smart. They are aware that things need to change.

Media stories constantly remind them: “Americans hate car shopping so much they’d rather give up sex and do taxes;” reads one headline reporting on an Edmunds study that found one in five Americans would give up sex for a month rather than haggle for a new car. Almost 30 percent would give up their phones for a weekend to avoid sitting down with a dealer. That particular study isn’t new, but it gets people’s attention.

While these provocative studies are good for generating headlines, they are also good for another group: third-parties who are happy to glide in between consumers and dealers to provide the improved customer experience they are seeking.

There’s nothing particularly malicious about any of that, they are just using a mix of technology, clever marketing and a customer-first approach that is resonating well with many consumers.

But I wouldn’t count dealers out just yet.

The reason many haven’t adapted so far, is that they haven’t had to. We are in a period of record car sales after all. With all dealers playing by mostly the same rules and providing comparable customer experiences, they haven’t needed to be pioneers of the new customer experience.

But this collective collusion in providing a retail experience that is less transparent, robust and “delightful” than other industries are providing, will end as new business models emerge and leaders break from the pack.

The OEMs and dealers who get it right will do very well in the short-term. But the other groups will soon follow and match or surpass the early adopters. Dealers are among the most innovative entrepreneurs you will ever meet, and they have always recognized the importance of their customers. If current and future customers demand a new experience, they’ll get it. That’s just good for everyone.

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Canadian auto dealer