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Aligning the Digital Retail and Showroom Experience

Has your dealership changed its sales processes in the last year due to COVID-19? The pandemic has accelerated many changes out of necessity, but now the question is, will these changes remain permanent? Not every dealer has fully embraced digital retail. Maybe you’ve added more tools to help customers with trade and payment estimates, but are you ready for a full online e-commerce platform?

Going digital requires a substantial financial commitment, including an investment in staff training and implementation of the necessary processes. Culture can also have an impact on your success. In some areas, consumer demand isn’t high enough to warrant the change. Sometimes, the dealer hasn’t considered how the purchase process will need to change and how the customer experience will need to be supported. Before investing in an ecommerce technology solution, it’s important to address whether your dealership has the culture to support a digital retail approach.

Culture Shock?

Online car buyers look for three things in a digital buying experience: transparency, convenience, and speed. It will be difficult to meet customer expectations online if your showroom experience does not offer these same three advantages.

Transparency. One reason why people enjoy shopping online is because they don’t have to talk to a salesperson. When customers are in your showroom, are you comfortable providing them with transparent pricing, trade, and payment information, as you would online? Are you offering vehicle history upfront and an express purchase option for customers that are concerned about speed? Are you offering information on dealer reconditioning on used and factory-supported discounts upfront and introducing all other dealer-provided services that come with the sale upfront? Train your salespeople how to meet customer expectations without losing the prospective sale or loss of possible profit.

Convenience. The traditional car-buying process is a desk-controlled model to make sure every opportunity gets worked. The process as we know it is not the ideal model for customer convenience. Are you willing to change your processes to provide a more consumer-friendly purchasing experience? This might include the following: having tools on your website so that customers can work most of their deal remotely, test drives at the customer’s home or workplace, and an electronic signing process and vehicle delivery when the deal is done. Are you looking for a tool that can offer on-site adoption as well as online convenience?

Speed. Granted, buying a car is more complicated than buying an appliance. That doesn’t change the fact that consumers don’t want to spend all day shopping for a car. Make saving time as important in your process as getting the best deal. The industry is seeing more and more single point of contact processes as customers complete more of the sale online prior to visiting the dealership. Regardless of possible structural changes in personnel, how will you adapt your processes for trade evaluation and credit submittal and turn to an F&I process to eliminate these time traps?

Keep in mind that just because you have the tools to enable transparency, convenience, and speed online, doesn’t mean they will magically happen. Dealership staff needs to be involved in the online purchase process at varying points. Many dealers have adopted digital retail tools but have not trained their staff to use these tools on-site to achieve the customer’s goals. You will see far more success when your process can pick up from where the customer left their research online and match that experience on-site.

More Than Finding the Right Ecommerce Platform

Once you’ve decided that you are willing to make the cultural changes to support digital retail, you may want to jump right into finding the right solution for your ecommerce platform. That’s absolutely a critical piece, but to ensure that you’re delivering the best customer experience and maximizing profit potential, make sure your digital retail process has these five components. 

Information. Provide online car shoppers with all of the information they typically ask a salesperson, including price, payment estimates, vehicle history, trade-in information, and how to go through the process online.

Provide information that differentiates your dealership, such as complimentary services and products such as oil changes, car washes, loaner services, and limited warranties. Take credit for reconditioning performed on used cars and the factory incentives being applied to new cars. Provide the staff with tools to avoid the perception of your product being commoditized.

Online Tools. The more tools you can provide the customer, the faster they will bring themselves down funnel while staying engaged with your dealership. Make it easy for online customers to determine the trade-in value of their cars or use an online payment calculator to calculate monthly payments. Additionally, ensure your staff has the training to effectively manage the leads these tools create and know how to drive appointments over the phone.

Ecommerce Platform. Many options are available. Choose one that aligns with your current processes. Many platforms act as great lead generators for sales teams right now as current consumer behavior is to research without completing the purchase. Also, review your policies for holding vehicles on deposit, off-site delivery, and compliance for forms delivery.

Virtual F&I Menu. This is a great way to provide an online option for F&I and segue customers from a convenient and fast way to shop to a convenient and fast way to finish the F&I process.

Econtracting. This is a critical step if you intend to sell vehicles online and provide the convenience of home delivery with all forms signed online prior to delivery of the vehicle.

If you are contemplating investing in a digital retail solution, take the time to review your current culture and processes. Then ask yourself—are you set up for success both online and in the showroom?


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