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What to Look for in a Digital Retailing Solution

Dealers should be aware that some third-party solutions are designed to cut your dealership out of the process with a model that allows customers to build their own deals on a Website (not your Website), then essentially sells you the “deals” as leads.

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Bill Wittenmyer serves as VP sales, layered apps & competitive accounts at Elead. With over 25 years of experience in automotive retail, he relies on the industry’s most comprehensive technology platform and data-driven strategies to help dealerships enhance customer experiences and grow profits. Highly regarded as a dynamic and motivational speaker, as well as an industry leader with non-traditional views, Wittenmyer speaks at several prominent automotive forums each year and contributes to top news publications and television business shows that influence industry business leaders across the U.S. Before joining Elead, Wittenmyer worked in automotive retail in sales and operations management. He earned his degree from Ashland University and took post-graduate courses at Georgia Southern University.

Ready or not, digital retailing is here. Many manufacturers, large auto groups, vendors and third parties have introduced, or are in the process of rolling out, a variety of digital retailing solutions designed to capture sales from car shoppers who want to buy a car online.

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Dealers should be aware that some third-party solutions are designed to cut your dealership out of the process with a model that allows customers to build their own deals on a Website (not your Website), then essentially sells you the “deals” as leads. Of course, the transaction can’t be finalized without your dealership’s inventory, so these solutions don’t truly meet the definition of what a seamless online purchasing process can be.

In a recent Cox Automotive study, 83 percent of consumers said they want to complete one or more steps of the purchase process online. Yet, the study also noted that 80 percent of consumers would never purchase a car without a test drive, and 89 percent want to sign final documents at the dealership.

This means that dealers are well positioned to remain central to the online car-buying process. Although it may take years for consumers to feel comfortable completing 100 percent of the car-buying process online, that doesn’t mean you should adopt a wait-and-see mentality. The faster dealerships embrace digital retailing, the less impact solutions that cut dealers out of the process will have on their business.

As a dealer, why not give your customers the best of both worlds? A hybrid, or integrated, digital retailing approach allows the customer to complete some or all of the car-buying process on your Website. As they go through the process and have questions (which they inevitably will), they have the tools to communicate back and forth with your sales team.

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At any point, the customer can pause their deal and pick it up later where they left off. The customer can resume building their deal online, or come to your dealership and complete the process with the help of a salesperson.

The best thing about this integrated approach is that at all times your dealership is central throughout the customer journey. The solution integrates seamlessly with your Website, DMS and/or CRM, and with your current sales process.

As we all know, there are several challenges to completing the purchase process online. Trade-in valuations, credit and financing, and state laws that require “wet” signatures are just a few obstacles to be overcome. Some digital retailing solutions offer tools to help with these obstacles; many don’t. As online car buying becomes mainstream, states that require wet signatures will change those laws to allow electronic signatures. Entrepreneurial and third-party solutions will soon solve the other challenges. Where there is a need, there will be a solution.

In the meantime, start thinking about how you can attract the majority of car shoppers who want to start building their deal online. Digital retailing does not have to be an “all or nothing” approach for your dealership.

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When looking for a solution, the first thing to consider is that it has to be easy to use. The car shopper’s first step is browsing your inventory, so you’ll want a shopping cart where customers can “save” several vehicles they’re considering.

More than half of consumers still want to negotiate price, so a solution should offer that option, as well as a way to ask other questions, with a built-in communications tool that connects the car buyer with a salesperson.

Trade-in valuations can be tricky. Many customers don’t want to come down to the dealership for this part of the process, but you may not trust a Website widget to give an accurate quote. Your digital retailing solution should allow the customer to provide you with photos and detailed information, so your staff can come up with a valuation that won’t break your bank.

Once initial prices are agreed upon, there’s still the issue of how the customer’s credit score will impact the final price, as well as local taxes and fees. Look for a solution that calculates all of those factors into a final price quote. On eCommerce sites, a last-minute price change is the top reason for cart abandonment, and it won’t be any different for auto dealerships.

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Online credit applications are fairly straightforward, but if a customer isn’t approved you’ll want to send a message that your dealership can help them find an alternative financing solution, and encourage them to contact you directly.

Another option that consumers want is to view online F&I product presentations and choose their own aftermarket products. Don’t be afraid that this will hurt your gross margin; early indicators from industry consultants are that customers will actually pay the same, if not more, when left to their own devices in a “no pressure” environment.

Finally, there’s the paperwork. The nice thing about making this available for the customer online is that many of them will want to review it before coming down to your dealership. When the customer arrives, all they’ll have to do is sign the documents and pick up their car.

Of course, a very small percentage of your customers will get this far online. The nice thing about a digital retailing solution is that it engages the car shopper and helps to bring them lower in the sales funnel. Most customers will get to a certain point, then they’ll want to see the car and schedule that test drive.

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Digital auto retailing is here, whether you’re ready or not. The good news is, solutions are available that keep your dealership central to the car-buying process. It doesn’t have to be complicated; just think of digital retailing as another way to engage Website visitors, enhance your customers’ experience and gain a competitive edge.

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