young digital native shopping on a personal laptop

How to Engage with Digital Natives

Written By Carol Marshall

(Article first appeared on AutoSuccess Online’s November 2023 Edition) Digital natives were born into a world filled with rapidly advancing technology, and as a result, they are unlike any consumer group that came before them. Understanding who digital natives are, how they think, and how to effectively engage with them is critical for dealers looking to thrive in a modern market.

Who are digital natives?

Digital natives encompass two generations that have grown up in the digital age: Millennials and Generation Z. Older generations may have some stereotypes about this tech-savvy demographic, so it’s valuable to take a more nuanced look at who they really are.

Millennials are the largest generation, surpassing the baby boomers. Their sheer numbers make them a crucial demographic for dealerships. This group places a higher value on experiences over saving money.

Having come of age with the internet, Millennials actively engage with digital tools to form their decisions. Many Millennials entered the job market during the 2008 recession, which has shaped them into savvy financial planners.

The good news for dealers is 79% of Millennials believe that car ownership is necessary. According to LendEDU, nearly 54% of Millennials compared auto finance rates before purchasing a vehicle, and 60% were not surprised by maintenance costs due to prior research.

Generation Z grew up with technology integrated into their personal lives. They often turn to online peer groups for interaction and experience life events and drama virtually.

While Gen Z is cognitively advanced, they are also burdened by anxiety and an overload of information. Because of their affinity for social media, members of Gen Z are undisputed leaders in their ability to influence consumer trends.

Regarding car ownership, it’s interesting that 39% of Gen Z aim for a luxury vehicle, not just any vehicle. And 81% want to understand their options before making a purchase.

Doing Business with Digital Natives

Altogether, digital natives represent $3 trillion in purchasing power. The key to unlocking their wallets is learning to effectively engage with them, which means adapting to their preferences and behaviors. Here are the essentials.

Make Websites Interactive

An overwhelming 89% of consumers prefer to interact via text messages rather than phone calls. On websites, the equivalent of a text message is the chat feature. As a dealer, you need to align your communication with this preference. This is a non-starter. If you cannot provide a reliable and consistently stellar experience via digital messaging on your website, you are excluding yourself from consideration.

It’s also important to note that Google Business Profile (GBP) listings receive five times the number of views as websites, so ensure that messaging is enabled on your GBP.

Focus on ratings and reviews

Recognize that digital natives rely heavily on social influence. For 91% of this group, online reviews matter and are often the first step in choosing a dealership.

Google also determines the order in which dealerships are listed based on ratings and reviews. Dealerships in the top three search results get 98% of clicks, so this should be a priority. If your online review process needs improving, consult your own digital native associates for input.

Embrace the online process

According to Cox Automotive’s 2022 Car Buyer Journey Study, 80% of car buyers think it’s a good or great idea to buy entirely online. Significantly, 44% say they plan to look only at websites that allow them to complete desired vehicle steps online.

Although dealerships accommodated remote buying during the pandemic, many have slipped back into the traditional appointment mindset. This is a mistake. Digital natives are savvy researchers and want to know pricing and other options before making a purchase. Providing the desired information and allowing them to interact digitally with your dealership will ultimately direct more potential shoppers into the online purchasing funnel.

To thrive for years to come, dealerships must align their communication preferences and behaviors to engage effectively with digital natives. This includes enabling interactive messaging on websites and GBPs, fostering online reviews and allowing more of the purchase process to occur digitally.