FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- Starting Dec. 11, customers of 30 AutoNation stores in south Florida will be able to use their credit cards to reserve a car they want to buy, as part of a purchase process that is largely online.
That’s one of the benefits the country’s largest dealership group will offer customers as it launches phase one of what it’s calling its new digital storefront.
Phase one includes the ability to hold and then purchase a vehicle with a guaranteed price through a five-step process that AutoNation is calling SmartChoice Express.
“We see a frustrated consumer that currently has an online experience and an in-store experience that are very much disconnected,” said AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson. “We see that as an opportunity.”
The digital storefront is a $100 million-plus investment to establish the AutoNation brand and transform the company’s websites from informational to transactional. The new web tools are expected to cut transaction time and improve customer satisfaction.
As easy as Apple
Jackson and his team of executives want to remake the retailer to appeal to customers who want the car-buying process to be as easy as buying electronics from Apple Inc.’s stores and websites. The project also represents a shift away from third-party lead providers for the company.
AutoNation has produced a two-and-a-half-minute video promoting SmartChoice Express. It outlines a five-step process for customers to drive a new vehicle:
1. Visit AutoNation’s website and search from more than 70,000 new and used vehicles in stock. After entering some basic information, the Smart Choice price is revealed.
2. View or print a price certificate on the selected vehicle. The certificate can be sent to the customer’s email or mobile device.
3. Reserve the vehicle with “just a few clicks” and make an appointment to come into the store. Customers can enter their credit card information via PayPal, and an authorization hold will be placed on the card. Once that is confirmed by the store, the vehicle will be taken out of inventory and placed in a special reservation area.
4. Visit the store within 48 hours to review paperwork and take a test drive. The vehicle and paperwork will be up front and ready to go.
5. Complete the transaction, and “in just minutes, you’re behind the wheel and ready to drive,” the video says.
The video features Famous Rhodes, AutoNation’s vice president of eCommerce, standing in as the customer. Advertisements -- touting the five steps but without Rhodes -- will begin airing in mid-January in the south Florida market, an AutoNation spokesman said.
All markets in 2015
After the launch in south Florida, AutoNation will expand the approach to other markets beginning early next year. The company aims to have the first phase completed at its 237 stores in 2015. Jackson has said the online capabilities will be further expanded next year and will eventually include the ability to handle trade-ins, give financing quotes, arrange service appointments, pay bills online and get online updates on vehicle repairs.