The Future of Boat Buying

Total clarity and the power to control engagement on their terms is what today’s consumers expect
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Leading e-commerce and tech companies have trained consumers to believe that anything can be delivered. Today’s buyers can point, click and have items shipped within a couple of days, in some cases the same day. Ask Alexa where the nearest boat dealer is located, and she immediately provides the distance to get there — and the directions. Alexa will even call the dealership for you.

Information is endless and easily accessible to help consumers make informed purchasing decisions. However, today’s retail experience in the recreation industry is the opposite of what consumers expect, particularly when purchasing a big-ticket item such as a boat.

Consumers can have a hard time getting sales personnel to reveal details such as price clarity (what are all the fees?), financing options and trade information. This is not quite the sales team’s fault. Being able to provide these details requires a significant amount of upfront information gathering, as well as communication between dealers and consumers to arrive at a place where all involved parties feel comfortable with the deal. To this day, consumers still walk away feeling unsure or frustrated, and some abandon the purchase completely.

The consumer experience doesn’t have to be this way. The job shared by the OEM and dealer is to instill trust and build a better experience for the customer. Doing this starts with gathering information that’s personal to the buyer. Carvana is successful because it offers an amazing experience that includes intelligent digital engagement in the research phase of the buying journey. Consumers are presented with, and have control of, all the information they need to make a purchase decision, such as financing, monthly payment estimation, prequalification and trade-in calculation. Consumers can even put down cash to purchase the vehicle online.

The entire deal can be created without a consumer ever talking to a sales representative. This level of engagement and control is what consumers expect from the OEMs and dealers they do business with, because the process provides information and price clarity as well as a hassle-free experience. Carvana does not claim to offer the best deal, but it has created a better value proposition and experience than an in-person visit to a dealership.

So what are the key components of creating a better online buying experience in the boating industry? For starters, OEMs and dealers should rethink their website and lead-acquisition strategies. Traditional lead forms are dead, and the focus should shift toward a better way to acquire information so consumers feel in control and dealers have the data they need to close the deal without having to “sell.”

OEMs and dealers spend thousands, if not millions, of dollars on websites and digital media to acquire customers. This spending commonly drives traffic to static landing pages where the call to action is, “Give me your name, email address and boating location.” Yes, contact information is important to collect, but if it’s the only information acquired, friction in the sales process will continue because 98 percent of the deal still needs to be created.

One of the biggest hurdles dealers face in building deals is determining affordability, a top concern with any large payment-dependent purchase. Pricing information and prequalification are important to capture upfront while consumers are shopping online.

Trade-in is another component that helps dealers, OEMs and consumers understand affordability, and supports providing a healthy supply of used units back to the dealership. If you look at the success of companies in the automobile space — such as Carvana, Vroom and CarMax — they digitally promote that they’ll buy the consumer’s car in an easy, upfront way. Not only does this proposition create a steady flow of traffic from current owners wanting more pricing information about their trade, but it also educates consumers about their next purchase, and provides potential retail sales opportunities for dealers.

In today’s digital-centric world, it’s not enough to rely on lead forms to determine the consumer’s purchase intent or triggers. All of the sales tools needed to build a deal in-person (prequalification, trade-in calculator and so forth) have to start making their way into digital storefronts in one seamless solution. Having a disjointed flow with multiple providers creates extra work and confusion for consumers and dealership sales teams.

Ultimately, the greatest result of obtaining more information through an intelligent online shopping process is that the leads are more qualified, a result that means dealers spend less time with low-quality opportunities. Studies have shown that 40 percent of leads are never responded to, so what is the point in gathering as many names as possible? As the perspective on what a lead is moves from quantity to quality, OEMs and dealers will reduce their costs to acquire an actual sale, and customer satisfaction will hit a new high. 

Bernie Brenner is the founder and CEO of Rollick, Inc.

This article was originally published in the May 2021 issue.

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