Since he started using an iPad to take car buyers through the finance and insurance process, Tim Dulaney has seen product sales and profit per vehicle jump.
Dulaney, finance director at Chandler Chevrolet in Madison, Ind., made the change in January 2012. By year end, the dealership's product sales had gone from an average of less than 1.5 per vehicle sold to 2.5. Profit soared by $425 per vehicle, a 22 percent gain.
"I knew by the end of the first month it was what I was going to be on permanently," Dulaney said. "With the iPad, you have the flexibility to go and sit down where the customer is. It breaks down that barrier, and that's where I believe a lot of our success is coming from."
With encouraging results from some early adopters, dealers increasingly are exploring the use of tablet computers to present menu options in their F&I departments. Some dealers and vendors say tablets will improve product sales and profits, boost customer satisfaction and possibly trim transaction times. They expect widespread adoption as tablets become common in other areas of the dealership, such as sales and service, and as consumers become more accustomed to using them in their everyday lives.
But despite the promise, tablets are still far from mainstream in F&I. Challenges facing a more widespread rollout include expense, resistance from finance managers and integration problems with dealership management systems.
Some public dealership groups are studying the technology intently.
"It's a work in progress," said Mike Jackson, CEO of AutoNation Inc., the nation's largest retailer in terms of unit sales of new vehicles in 2012. It has done some pilots on using tablets in F&I.
Sonic Automotive Inc., the nation's third-largest retailer, plans to wrap F&I into an iPad-based sales process slated to be rolled out during the second half of 2014. Sales reps at Sonic's 100-plus stores will handle a vehicle sale from beginning to end, says Jeff Dyke, Sonic executive vice president of operations. Sonic will retain current finance managers to help supervise the process.
"We've got a sales associate with an iPad in their hand, and they'll be able to complete the entire transaction, including the appraisal, including the desking of the deal and including finance, all on their own," Dyke said.
Sonic executives decided to move to a tablet-based process because consumers are demanding a quicker, more seamless experience, Dyke said. "We're going to be prepared for the future customers," he said.
Adoption by public retailers could create a tipping point for the technology, said Shawn McCool, co-founder of iTapMenu, a vendor in Carmel, Ind.