Here’s What Dealership Groups Need to Learn from Starbucks

man holding starbucks cup

When you look at Starbucks, it’s easy to see a meticulously maintained visual identity replete with white cups and that iconic green logo. But don’t let yourself get distracted by visual branding. Their true strength is an industry-leading brand experience that encompasses the physical and digital shopping journey.

Starbucks is more than a cup of coffee. It’s a lifestyle, an event, and an ecosystem. Just like Starbucks conquered the coffee market, dealership groups can eclipse their competition by creating an experience that is consistent at every location and on every smartphone or computer. A standardized, omni-channel identity makes your dealerships the obvious consumer choice, no matter what brand your customers want.

The American coffee giant knows the value of omni-channel, which gives customers a cohesive shopping experience that integrates all online and offline channels, allowing fluid transitions from one to the next. There’s no longer a rift between online or in-store consumer activity, and Starbucks has used this model to their clear advantage.

Before you point it out: yes, I know that buying coffee isn’t the same as buying a car. Coffee doesn’t require a warranty, and I’ve never personally financed a cup of coffee over a 48-month term; I’m also not sure how I’d feel about buying a certified preowned latte, but maybe that’s just me. Even so, the Starbucks success formula is undeniably relevant to dealership groups.

The entire Starbucks storefront exists within an app, which allows the user to customize, place, and pay for an order in under a minute. The customization options are so granular that you can specify exactly how much caramel syrup, mocha powder, and whipped cream you want in your green tea (not that I’d advise this, but your tastes may differ). The shopping experience is identical between your phone and the café, and the transition is seamless.

Just like Starbucks, your dealership group will benefit from a uniform omni-channel presence. Starbucks has tremendous draw because the shopping experience is the same across every app, webpage, and storefront in every country. A dealership group can replicate that Starbucks appeal with a standardized, omni-channel customer experience that aligns every rooftop in their portfolio. Here’s how to pull it off:

Step One: Consistent Branding & Promotion

The first step is the easiest, and probably one you’ve done already. Most consumer journeys begin with online research, which means that your first point of contact with your customers is your website. The basic experience should feel familiar to users, whether they’re looking for a Chevy or a Mercedes.

By building each website with the same platform, you offer your customers an online presence that balances the needs of the automakers with the needs of your own dealer group brand. Customers frequently compare cars across multiple automakers, so a unified web presence makes it easy for people to choose your group, no matter which brand they buy.

Step Two: Enable Digital Transactions

This is where we come back to Starbucks. A big part of Starbucks’ enduring success is their ingenious adaptation to digital consumption habits. By the time you’re walking past a different coffee shop, you’ve already placed and paid for an order through the Starbucks app on your phone. Starbucks reached you first and made it easy to buy online, so they win your business before their competitors even enter the game.

Likewise, dealership groups can overshadow their competition by offering an intuitive omni-channel digital retailing experience for every one of their brands. When you leverage the power of your group to set a new standard for the car-buying experience, other dealerships quickly begin to look like they’re stuck in the ‘80s – and not in a fun, nostalgic way.

Step Three: Seamless Online & In-Store Experience

Here’s the step that truly sets a good digital retailing platform apart from a great one: in-store integration. When you pick up your Starbucks mobile order, it’s sitting there on the counter with your name on it. No one asks you how many sugars you wanted, or what size you’d like. It’s seamless.

A great digital retailing platform can lose its edge if no one in your showroom knows how to use it. The best digital retailing partners not only take care of digital implementation, but they also provide training and coaching for your team. This ensures that customers can pick up in-store exactly where they left off online without overlap or confusion.

You don’t have to sell coffee to learn from Starbucks. Shopping isn’t just about the brand anymore, it’s about the experience. Starbucks conquered the coffee industry by making an ordinary cup of coffee feel special and important, whether you’re in line at their storefront or ordering from your desk. Your dealership can do exactly the same thing with digital retailing.

Andrew Tai is the CEO and co-founder of Motoinsight, but his influence extends far beyond the company. A contributing columnist to The Globe and Mail and a prolific speaker, Andrew is a recognized authority on digital retailing within the automotive industry. Connect with him today to learn how your dealership is going to change, or see the future yourself at

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