Many older consumers like to use high-tech dealership tools -- such as e-contracting, video presentations for F&I products and customizable, electronic menus on iPads -- just as much as 20- and 30-something shoppers do, auto retailing experts say.
Experts: F&I tech tools are suitable for all ages
"Every consumer is wired these days," says Steve Smythe, CEO of Market Scan Information Systems Inc., a Camarillo, Calif., dealership software provider. "I do all my research online, and I'm 62. Just about everybody I know does research online whenever they buy anything," he told Automotive News.
Dealership salespeople use Market Scan's software and auto-lender database to find and negotiate pricing on loans and leases.
Once customers of any age visit a dealership, Smythe says, they shouldn't be left unattended, doing nothing. Instead, he says, customers could be provided with a mobile device to do research at their own pace. Technology also can reduce or eliminate the amount of time dealership personnel must leave customers alone, for instance, while a manager reviews and approves an offer or while a staffer is checking or photocopying a driver's license before a test drive, he says.
"If customers are left alone for 10 or 15 minutes at a time, we figure they may go through the whole process unattended a little over an hour. Their wheels are turning. They're asking themselves: 'What's going on?' It's a little uncomfortable," he says.
"The propensity is to pick up the phone and call a competitor or call a third-base coach," Smythe says. A third-base coach, he says, is a friend or a relative who may talk a customer out of a deal, just as the customer is about to reach "home."
Gary Allgeier, director of finance for Suburban Collection near Detroit, said F&I managers should give up trying to get customers to put down their smartphones. Instead, dealerships must make F&I more engaging for customers -- including older buyers.
"Millennial traits transcend generations," he said in June during an Automotive News F&I Week Webinar. "The perception is it's the younger customer, but a lot of these customer traits are transcending generations very, very quickly."
Allgeier and other experts describe those millennial traits as a short attention span; being "addicted" to mobile gadgets and multitasking, even during a transaction; plus distrust for any obvious sales pitch, together with a demand for personalized attention.
In an online poll, Allgeier asked his audience how much technology F&I managers use in their stores. The biggest portion, 59 percent, said: "some paper, some technology." But 33 percent responded, "very little or no technology." Only 8 percent said they used an "all-electronic" process.
Allgeier said, "Anything you do has got to be good for any customer," regardless of age.
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