Since I started driving, I’ve owned well over 50 vehicles. From every-day models, to brand new luxury cars with extensive custom modifications, to classic pieces of machinery minted before I was born, to racecars that hug track curves and fly down straightaways.

Over the years, I’ve learned what draws a buyer to a car, what makes them choose their next vehicle, and how they decide where to purchase. Google has identified five auto shopping moments every buyer experiences, and I believe there are easy ways for OEMs and dealerships to capture shoppers at each one of these five moments:

  1. Which car is best? Brand loyalty begins with ideals. Many car buyers enter the market with a predetermined idea of which makes and models they consider the best. They might have come to these conclusions with the help of international ad campaigns, their car-obsessed friends (I can’t tell you how many car-buying questions I get asked every day), or their own experiences with previous ownership. Auto dealers have a chance to change consumers’ minds at this stage by offering a gift card to anyone who comes in for a test drive. Being incentivized to get behind the wheel of a car they hadn’t considered is a great way to turn a buyer on to your brand.
  2. Is it right for me? A car shopper may believe they’re meant to be behind the wheel of a Maserati GranTurismo, but unfortunately, a luxury convertible won’t help them shuttle three kids and a dog to soccer practice. Or maybe they’d love to drive a lifted pickup truck, but their long commute would make the MPG impractical. This is the stage where every car buyer makes a checklist of what they’re looking for –towing capability, room for three car seats, automatic sliding doors, or heated leather seats. These necessities are great on paper, but need to be observed in person before a buyer narrows down his or her selection. Prepaid card incentives are a great tool to get potential shoppers on the lot and looking at the cars that check every box.
  3. Can I afford it? As a dealership, there’s only so much you can sway the final sale price of a new or gently used vehicle. But in a buyer’s mind, financial perks can make a huge difference. Even when the monthly payment stays the same, incentives like zero down, no interest for a year, a gift card to use on maintenance, or a purchase rebate can soften the impact of making such a major decision.
  4. Where should I buy it? Thanks to the internet, shoppers have access to inventory for hundreds of miles. What’s going to make them more likely to choose your dealership than your competitor? Again, offering an incentive or reward card with purchase can give you the edge you need to get a buyer in the door. From there, offering brand loyalty rewards to repeat customers – those who have purchased more than one vehicle with you or return to your shop for maintenance – will keep them coming back.
  5. Am I getting a deal? If you’ve implemented any of the incentives or reward programs suggested above, your customers’ answer is probably yes. Providing customers with a gift card they can use now will help them feel like they’ve gotten more than a new car with their purchase – their dealership threw in three free oil changes, discounted tires, or a rebate that’s as good as cash. It also makes them more likely to stay loyal to your dealership in the future, when they remember how you treated them. Whether they’re in the market for budget or luxury, no buyer can resist a deal.

    That includes me, too. Even I’m not immune to incentives and rewards. No matter how much the “which car is best?” moment influences my buying decision, the “am I getting a deal?” moment gives me a thrill that’s only second to getting my racecar up to 150 MPH.

5 Incentive Strategies for the Auto Industry: A Complete Guide