Digital Retailing Applications are Helping Dealers Navigate Post-Pandemic & Compete with Non-Franchise Online Providers
For years now, dealers have heard customer whispers wishing for better online services from their local dealerships. While e-commerce services like Carvana and Vroom have been growing in popularity every passing year, small-scale dealers have been sprinting to catch up to 21st century auto sales in a way that is both cost-effective and easy to manage. Ryan Gremore, the president of the O’Brien Auto Team of Bloomington – Normal, IL, believes that the brick-and-mortar dealership is here to stay — but the in-person experience can be made more enjoyable for customers and more profitable for businesses when paired with excellent digital retailing.
“I think the digital retailing tool will continue to grow,” Gremore says. “It will continue to drive opportunities for dealers … and it will continue to provide customers with a really friendly platform that gets them the information when they want it.”
Digital retailing allows dealers to provide their customers an “Amazon-like” experience. This experience is classified by a simple, user-friendly interface that easily takes users from A to Z, so to speak. From searching for and learning about the product (A), asking questions through a live chat room, reading reviews and, finally, to the final payment or payment options (Z) — the whole process is on one site. While this type of online-retail experience feels familiar to us for buying items like can openers or t-shirts, it has been slow to catch on for car sales. After all, a car is a much bigger purchase than a shirt. “I think people still want to confirm their decision in person,” Gremore says, “and they want to use some of their senses … they want to sit in the car. When it comes down to actually saying yes, pushing the button, paying for it … people still want to confirm their decision in person.”
The fact that the final purchase of a vehicle is often processed in store doesn’t mean that digital retailing doesn’t have its place within dealerships. In fact, blending the two realms (the physical and digital realms) can be a very successful sales model.
When the O’Brien Auto Team wanted to improve its online offerings, it found a partner in the digital retail application company WebBuy. “There were a few driving factors we looked at,” Gremore says. “Ease of use, integration of the trade-in process, automation of the credit approval and ability to offer actual (not estimated) payments to the customer. Of course, we needed to be aware of protecting margins and overall profitability. The WebBuy tool has delivered on all of these key aspects.”
“WebBuy provides the consumer with the transparency and time savings they demand,” Tom Murray, CEO of WebBuy, says. “Our software provides the self-directed consumer the process, information and options desired to complete the entire vehicle purchase/lease completely online. The combined effect of providing a best-in-class consumer experience with the flexibility franchised and independent dealerships need to maintain profitability is essential and a win-win situation.”
Gremore says he has found, while using WebBuy’s site traffic tracking services, that people tend to browse the dealership’s digital showroom after business hours. “People want to get the information quickly and they want to get it easily and they want to get it on their own timetable,” he says. For some, the ideal time to start the car-buying process may be at 10 p.m. on a Friday night and a digital retailing service accounts for those browsing trends. “It’s a beautiful thing to start off on first thing on Monday morning with vehicles actually sold over the weekend.”
While every customer who logs on to the O’Brien Auto Team’s site won’t end up making it through a whole transaction in one night, it’s helpful for the dealer to see what the customer is looking at, how long they look at it and see what other vehicles they may search for, to better gauge the real consumer interest in the vehicle. This is a process that the O’Brien Auto Team playfully refers to as “playing in the sandbox.”
“The amount of people who play in the sandbox is huge,” Gremore explains. Once the “sandbox” browsers seem to be interested in a vehicle online, the in-person sales team takes over, possibly giving the customer a call to provide more insight on a car or answer any lingering questions.
As much as this method of sales is convenient and comfortable for the consumer, Gremore says that his sales and service employees enjoy the digital retailing aspect of the business as well. The O’Brien Auto Team has happily embraced WebBuy for a couple of key reasons. One, their customers like being able to conduct business online, making for happy and positive customer relations. “It’s really rewarding for everyone because it’s what consumers want,” Gremore says. “My team was really excited to know that we were embracing that. One particular aspect we see is the number of consumers who accept the trade-in offer without any further negotiation. I sense that because WebBuy integrates their Carvaluator process in such a smart way, consumers feel confident about their offer and feel comfortable about completing the rest of the process.”
Besides listening to consumer demands, adding the digital retail aspect of the dealership also has caused there to be less “grief,” as described by Gremore. He uses the word grief to express the often times uncomfortable aspect of auto sales … price negotiations. It is no secret that consumers want to save money any chance they can, and while dealers like Gremore understand and respect that, haggling over prices does cause a lot of grief — on both sides of the transaction. “At the end of the day, dealers may negotiate as much as customers do,” he explains, adding that price estimates are integrated on their site through WebBuy. “The digital retailing tool is kind of taking [negotiating] out of play.”
By putting the best and most competitive price online, buyers already shop around digitally, and by looking at prices early, they move down the sales funnel with the listed price in mind. Also, if a consumer wishes to compare prices, they immediately can online, removing the need to visit other dealerships in person. “With WebBuy’s BidBoard feature this too provides transparency with the consumer as it relates to actual payments offered by multiple lenders,” Gremore says “For our sales team, this actually makes their job so much easier since they are dealing with a completely done deal. To put a point on this — we have customers who work their deal on the weekend and the sales team delivers the vehicle Monday morning — how amazing!”
Gremore and his sales and service team members have been using WebBuy to curate their online showroom, communicate with customers, track purchasing trends and more since before the COVID-19 pandemic. When COVID-related lockdowns started in early-to-mid 2020, the O’Brien Auto Team was in a great place to continue with business, thanks to WebBuy.
“When increased traffic took hold, we were able to capitalize on a tool we already had in place and provide a digital check-out option our customers desire. It was very helpful for us,” he says. Now, while things have been slowly going back to normal, dealerships have found that COVID-19 may have produced one unexpected blessing: it forced dealerships and their customers to embrace digital retailing. “As we turn the corner and focus on 2022, we plan to accelerate our use of the O’Brien Express Car Buying option — so, from either the living room or the showroom, it will be the same experience for the consumer.”