WINCHESTER — More and more consumers are turning to online means to obtain items during the coronavirus outbreak, and at least one area car dealership is seeing an uptick in its online presence as a result.
Marlow Automotive Group, which has locations in Winchester, Front Royal and Luray, sees that as a positive.
“It’s very clear that people are shopping remotely. I get a report every day from my e-commerce director, and he shows me how many people have been on our website and how many people have been looking at our products,” said Emily Marlow-Beck, who serves as president for the locally-owned and operated Marlow Automotive Group. “Typically, that’s an indication that good things are to come.”
Marlow-Beck said the buying process online eliminates the hassle of folks leaving their house and also keeps the storefronts limited in how many people are on site.
She noted customers can log on and get vehicle information, negotiate finance terms, learn about rebates, get appraisals on their current vehicle and talk with associates. When all the details are worked out, the vehicle can then be delivered to the customer.
“We’ve had these tools for a really long time, but the demand wasn’t there until recently. People are really relying on these tools and embracing these tools,” she said. “You can have the best of both — you can have a digital retail experience between a local customer and a local business. The digital retail business doesn’t belong exclusively to large companies.”
Sales, Marlow-Beck said, have slowed during the pandemic.
The recent trend has shifted more toward those purchasing vehicles to better suit what Marlow-Beck refers to as “life changes.”
“Sales, this is an interesting time and I think there’s some anxiety in the market,” she said. “Most peoples’ lives look different today than they did three weeks ago. So that’s driving behavior right now. People have a different rhythm in their lives and need different vehicles to support that.”
While some certainly view vehicles as a luxury, Marlow-Beck said they’re a necessity for most, including essential employees who still need to get around.
“Everyone knows this is an unprecedented time, and everyone has a role to play,” she said. “Our role during this time is to make sure everyone has access to reliable transportation.”
Like other businesses, Marlow-Beck said sanitation and cleanliness has moved to the forefront of business operations. She said Marlow dealerships continue to implement process changes to ensure cleanliness as well as limiting the number of both workers and customers on site.
Even so, the beat goes on.
“People still depend on us. We service first responders, health care workers, municipalities, law enforcement. We service the people who serve the people, and we need to keep that going,” Marlow-Beck said. “We have to be innovative and find a way to do it that allows us to embrace as much social distancing as possible.”
With that, a shift, too, has gone to servicing vehicles for those who need to keep them on the road.
“I feel like from a service standpoint, the service is still steady,” Marlow-Beck noted. “Our service department is steady with the changes we’ve made to pick-up and delivery.”
Service isn’t just for vehicles, though. It applies to customers, too.
“We are taking the role that our job right now is less sales and more service,” Marlow-Beck said. “Our job is to get information to people so they can make decisions that are best for their family and know what options are out there. We’ve been here for over 75 years, so we hope we’ve earned the trust in the community.”
Marlow-Beck said that she believes as things start to progress and things begin to return to normal, small businesses should thrive.
“I hope when this is all said and done, that we find out that all small businesses are innovative and it makes us better,” she said. “I hope people have an enhanced appreciation for local business and how shopping at a local hardware store means that that store is going to spend money at a local restaurant who’s going to spend money at a local printer who’s going to spend money at a local car dealership. How we’re all connected and how we all support each other, I hope there’s an enhanced appreciation for that.”