By Ron Haley
Consumer attitudes about personal mobility and commercial purchases are being shaped significantly by the COVID-19 pandemic and felt across the transportation sector.
The pandemic, the lockdown and social distancing mandates have disrupted the consumer habits of buying as well as shopping. The speed with which these impacts have been felt is significant as many industries are experiencing major declines in customers.
Now more than ever, the transportation industry must explore and pivot how to do business to respond, recover, and thrive. This is a unique once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to re-imagine the transportation system and move it towards a more efficient and seamless experience.
Transportation companies will need to plan ahead to ensure they have evolved the way they do business as customer’s buying habits shift post pandemic. Consumers are learning to improvise and learn new habits.
Jesus Mantas, senior managing partner at IBM Services, says studies suggests COVID-19 is permanently altering U.S. consumer behavior.
“There are long-term implications of the new consumer behaviors for industries like retail, transportation and travel among others,” Mantas says. “These organizations need to quickly adapt their business models to serve the new consumer behaviors in order to survive and thrive.”
Companies must meet customers where they are today. A key change for bus dealers will be that customers are less motivated to purchase new buses and want to explore more options.
The lure of new is fading.
New bus sales will likely be down as buyers recover from the financial fallout of the pandemic. They are not going to have money for major expenditures like new buses.
Can the customer still get a quality, reliable and safe vehicle without the hefty price tag?
Certified used buses are an excellent option. For example, a new loaded 25 passenger plus rear luggage can range close to $70,000 and a used 2017 with less than 50K miles is less than $50,000.
A major shift in the consumer purchase habits will challenge the need to purchase a bus.
What other options are there to make the experience more convenient and efficient? Short-term and long-term rental will play a key role in the post-pandemic transportation narrative.
Bus dealers must pivot from just sales to rental options for their customers. No longer do vehicles need to sit unused for months when not needed. We were forced to see this reality during the lockdown.
Customers will look ahead to options where they can rent while they need it, paving the way for the explosion of seasonal rental options. Customers pay only for the months they use their vehicles.
The shift in the behavior will involve the customer feeling more in control of their transportation needs, rather than being weighed down by big unused purchases.
With social distancing measures becoming a long-term reality, lease and rental options become more crucial than ever as sectors must have supplemental fleet to follow guidelines.
Many schools will be in need of major supplemental fleet as a result of sports being moved to spring semester. They must look ahead to make adjustments to ensure they are well prepared to deal with the added transportation needs for their athletes.
It remains unclear which customer behavioral changes during the crisis will stick even after the pandemic subsides.
However, players in the transportation industry need to closely monitor these changes and adapt their company model, sales, and overall strategy to those specific conditions.
For example, digital becomes more important along the entire purchase funnel, with half of consumers being interested in online and contactless sales and service.
How will this alter the dynamics around customer relations? Will traditional sales guys adapt their strategies from in person to digital connection?
Companies who make this shift to digital and deliver excellence in the customer experience have an opportunity to maintain these customer relationships after the crisis.
Change sometime hurts, but it can also pave the way to do business better and more efficiently.
Do we need to shift from having large inventory of buses on the lot to a more strategic rental model that puts more buses to work? Can we make the industry more consumer friendly, offering customized options that meet their specific needs without taking on the financial burden of large one-time purchases?
We will see these questions unfold in the coming months and years as a result of the dramatic impact of COVID-19.
One thing is for sure…bus dealers will need to adapt, be innovative and become more resilient if they want to not only survive, but thrive in the new transportation era.
Ron Haley is executive vice president of Master’s Transportation, one of the nation’s leading providers of rental, lease and purchase of transport vehicles, www.MastersTransportation.com.