Maintaining Control of Online Retail Starts with Understanding Digital Body Language

At the just-concluded NADA 2016 Trade Show, Cox Automotive Vice President of Digital Retailing Mike Burgiss spent much of the show discussing online sales concepts and trends with dealers and managers. He also hosted two detailed workshops about how dealers can maintain control of online retail – while at the same time providing the type of sales experience that consumers expect. Needless to say, there was healthy dialogue about how to work in today's online to in-store environment, especially regarding the best ways to maximize profit as well as customer satisfaction. It's no longer whether or not it's happening. Today’s reality is that dealerships are at a critical juncture where the choices they make will define their immediate and long term sales prospects. Making those right choices begins with understanding digital body language and its importance to success.  

Digital Body Language

If you’ve ever sold anything, played a hand of poker or negotiated, you know how important understanding body language is to the process. A good salesperson knows when his customer is close to agreeing to a deal by being aware of unspoken signals; indeed, how your body reacts to information is often more accurate than the conversation that’s going on.

It’s the same for the digital experience. A person shopping for a car creates “digital” body language that a salesperson can use to assess their readiness to buy. It’s a trail of intentions and preferences made available with smart digital retailing tools and trained professionals who know what to look for – and how to engage. Just as a savvy salesperson takes in all the physical cues that create a picture of the sale, so too can a salesperson use digital body language to map the needs and wants of the customer. The key, of course, is in building trust. While it’s true that most people today are very protective of their personal data, most would share at least one piece of information to improve content recommendations. And in terms of car shopping, digital retailing applications show that the more comfortable a person is – the more authentic the environment – the more likely they are to provide real information and create accurate digital body language.

It Happens on the VDP

The best place for that exchange is on the Vehicle Details Page (VDP), because it’s these pages that are at the center of virtually every sale. By providing valuable information first, dealerships create an environment of trust and credibility for shoppers. As buyers self-pencil their deals, the digital body language they create becomes a vital part of the showroom discussion. With the initial deal structure, the buyer reveals their financial state, their priorities, and how much they want the car. It’s a road map to building a fair deal. Each part of the digital conversation helps to build out the intent of the buyer – insights that a salesperson can use to build trust, gain credibility and make the sale. For example, their location to the dealership might tell you how loyal they are to the vehicle brand. How they self-edit their credit rating or down payment might tell the salesperson how confident they are and how much they want the deal.  Just remember that digital body language goes both ways. The salesperson’s timing, interest and nuances – such as the use of pronouns and inclusive language – can either make the buyer feel important, or a nuisance. It’s important to come from a position of authority, in terms of decision-making ability and in terms of expertise.  As with just about everything, timing is critical: learning when to add in a small perk or benefit such as a tank of gas can make the sale and create a sense of over-delivery to the customer.  

The process creates a true interpretation of the customer’s wishes, one that seamlessly transitions to an in-person experience at the showroom. It’s what Burgiss calls Connection Commerce – the act of putting the relationship between dealer and buyer first, and empowering the deal structuring process to take place online. That gives consumers the platform to create the type of experience they want, in a trusted and authentic environment. As a result, they share legitimate intentions via digital body language that a salesperson can use to craft a fair deal for all.


Mike Burgiss is the Founder & General Manager of MakeMyDeal, and VP of Digital Retailing at Cox Automotive. As a technology thought leader and entrepreneur, Mike’s passion lies in providing dealers with the online tools necessary to stay in control and win in their retail businesses, specializing in leading innovations that drive new business growth. Click here to learn more about Mike and read his latest guidance on online automotive retail trends.