The common question that gets asked in business is ‘Why?’ That’s a good question, but an equally valid question is ‘Why not?’ – Jeff Bezos
Considering the automotive retail market, if I were Amazon (or Jeff Bezos) apart from having a persistent kink in my neck from twisting my head to the right to see the endless amount of digits in my bank account statement, I just might want to take on another fun project. Hmm, automotive retail, that could be fun.
By fun meaning I wouldn’t want to own any one or even all of the dealerships. Nope. Too much stuff, too much friction, not appreciated in the marketplace enough relative to our own Amazon culture and strategy. I wouldn’t want to compete with any one or more dealerships either, to what end? To add more zeros to my bank account. Nah. And besides, there’s those “franchise laws” to deal with (although as we know, laws change, often for the right monetary incentives… marijuana taxation would be an example). Definitely wouldn’t want to be a manufacturer, no offense Elon, but that just isn’t our gig.
No if I were Amazon, I’d want raving fan Amazon shoppers that love to make their transportation and auto purchase experiences from Amazon as much as they love their doorbell ringing right now knowing that they just got their Amazon shipment from their Alexa order last night. Hmm, how could I do that?
If I were Amazon I wouldn’t want your dealership, not even your market. What I’d want is simply to be top of mind when any person young or old even considers their first vehicle or their next replacement vehicle. Ooooh, cool, wait a minute, I’d also then win most of that automotive search revenue from Google and Bing too. Haha, this will be great, could be lot’s of fun too. But first, I’d need some things to play out in my favor.
What I’d need is a prominent dealer – preferably dozens of them in different markets throughout the country – to begin to prove that auto buyers can and want to purchase a vehicle from their smart phone from comfort of their kitchen table as easy as ordering pizza. Yeah!
Then I’d want those same prominent dealers to start delivering cars to auto buyers homes so that I can get that business case proven. Cool because that dealer would be doing (and paying for) the proof of concept work for me. Yes!
Then I’d want the OEM’s, the Toyota, Fords, BWM’s, Honda’s of the world, all of the OEMS’s to see the “distribution model” that these innovative dealers are constructing, and begin to re-consider the benefits to them (the OEM’s) of fewer and fewer retail franchises. Dealerships acting as distribution centers and proving that more profitable model, and at the same time increasing their stock prices. And then, as the OEM’s move to fewer retail dealerships for a more profitable distribution model, all of those marketing companies and digital search marketing would also decline giving us at Amazon even more of the online automotive search activity and revenue. This would be great!
Then I’d want lobbyists and politicians to begin to see the decline in employment and tax revenues in automotive retail as these innovative dealers deliver and distribute vehicles in markets where other dealerships had been closed or minimized because of the new “deliver to your home” distribution model. That decline in tax revenue from the retail auto industry of dealerships, marketing companies, and other supporting businesses would be heavy pressure on politicians. This would then begin to open those discussions and encourage lobbying around relaxing or even removing these archaic franchise laws in automotive retail. Making it easier for me to play. Yes and more yes!!!
The best part would be if during this time, these dealers were heralded as innovative geniuses! Geniuses that were in fact paying for and doing all the things that I (Amazon) would need to have done in order for Amazon to potentially become the first thing and place a young person thinks of when the thought of a vehicle enters their mind. Just as they think Uber first instead of taxi, I’d want them to think of the “happy experience” with Amazon instead of XYZ Dealership.
Of course, one of the things I wouldn’t want, is for dealerships to consider the culture and experiences that consumers love in other retail experiences throughout their life. Businesses and places that consumers love to visit, to linger and stay a while, to pay a premium for their stuff because the experience (not just the transaction) is sans friction, the experience is fun, cool, and worthy of raving facebook posts. Places like Starbucks, the Apple store, the local bridal Shop. Sure at Amazon I can deliver coffee, macs, and wedding dresses but we’ll never come close to matching those experiences. Those businesses focus on anticipating and then meeting their customers “happy experiences” without friction. We’ll never win at that game.
Another thing that I’d wouldn’t want is for dealers to recognize that they already have two of the three things that would put them on par with consumer experiences in Starbucks, Apple Stores and bridal shops. Two of those three things are:
- Gorgeous, spacious, clean facilities (nearly Taj Mahals), free WiFi, lounge areas, and many dealerships even serve excellent Starbucks coffee, and;
- The shiny metal objects! The Vroom-Vrooms! The coolest hottest new cars and trucks to look at, touch and feel! Customers would love to see the new products from the brand that they love without purchasing pressure or pesky follow-ups (You know, just like at the Apple store).
Another thing that I wouldn’t want, something that would make it impossible for us at Amazon to have any impact in auto retail is if dealers decided once and for all to execute on the third thing that makes for un-Amazon-able opportunity. The thing that has consumers persistently flocking to Starbucks, Apple stores, and bridal Shops… it is… in the minds of the consumer… it doesn’t suck to be there! It’s not a hassle. There’s no friction. The third thing is a rave worthy “frictionless customer experience. A place where all of the employees are great, and the consumer doesn’t feel pressured to do a damned thing. Heck, not only do they not get annoyed when they’re at those aforementioned places… Starbucks, Apple, and the bridal shops don’t try to annoy the consumer on their television at home, in their mail box, on the radio in their car, during their online internet experiences, and definitely not in their social media feeds.
The thing that has consumers persistently flocking to Starbucks, Apple stores, and bridal Shops… it is… in the minds of the consumer… it doesn’t suck to be there!
THE VERY LAST THING I’d want is for a dealership (or worse a dealer group) to innovate on that third thing. The opportunity for us at Amazon would be vanquished if dealers scrapped their tens of thousands of dollars of monthly advertising budget and began spending that money to make the experiences at their dealerships for their customers “happy experiences,” happy places where people simply loved being. Where the whole model of winning that next car deal were flipped on its head, not to winning the next deal, but to winning that next customers’ heart. In short I wouldn’t want dealers to try to fix the negative perceptions and broken relationships that they have with their customers, I’d want them to continue to look for quick fix advertising and technology strategies to just sell the next car. As long as they kept spending their time and money toward putting salves on the symptoms and not focus on the problem (the experience), then we’d be good.
The experience can be fixed in a snap! If they redirected that $30k, 50k, 100k monthly budget (yes many dealers spend tens of thousands of dollars per month on advertising) toward creating happy frictionless customer experiences we at Amazon, nor any business would have a chance. Actually, if they did that not only would their dealerships grow and sell more, but the irony is that there would then be a high demand for more of them. It’s funny, many of them don’t think that it’s “easily fixable” or even possible. I’ve seen some of them boast about Steve Jobs’ creative and innovative genius, but I wonder if they truly understood his passion. Many people, many successful and experienced retailers and investors told Steve Jobs that a computer retail store would never work. What they missed is, that’s not what Steve wanted. Apple’s head of retail at the time – Ron Johnson had this to say about what they were creating with the Apple store: “You have to create a store that’s more than a store to people,” he said. “People come to the Apple Store for the experience — and they’re willing to pay a premium for that.
If dealers decided to simply do that, that would be the death knell for me if I were Amazon considering a play in automotive retail. If dealers once and for all chose to remove the friction in their dealerships, focus on making raving fans of their already captive audience. If they spent their money on having raving fans and being on the top of their shoppers “fav places” to be list, instead of spending money to be on the top of a search engine result page. If there were a conversation in a dealership showroom one day, where a dad was failing miserably at getting his son to believe that back when he bought his first car, people didn’t trust car salespeople and didn’t like being at dealerships at all. But, as I (Amazon) look at what’s happening in automotive retail it appears I’ve got no worries. I’m reminded of John Wimber’s famous quote: “Show me where you spend your time, money and energy and I’ll tell you what you worship.” It appears that there are far more dealers willing to do what Amazon needs rather than what their industry needs. It seems they’re more interested in proving my commerce and distribution model than they’re interested in winning the hearts and minds of their consumers. And probably the best part of all this is… they’re actually paying for it! I’ve got time. I’ll just sit back and wait.
Alexa, have an Uber driver deliver a red 2018 Ferrari for me to drive tomorrow.