FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- By the end of 2015, AutoNation Inc. customers will be able to finance and buy a car online -- even signing the paperwork electronically from home, says AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson.
That's the promise of a $100 million-plus investment to establish the AutoNation brand and transform the company's websites from informational to transactional, turning those sites into what the retailer calls its digital storefront.
If it works as promised, that ability to complete even a complex transaction electronically would be a game changer in the automotive retail landscape.
The new web tools are expected to cut transaction time and improve customer satisfaction. With so much of the work done upfront, Jackson says a customer could complete the car-buying process at the store in less than 30 minutes.
AutoNation kicks off the transformation Dec. 11 when it launches SmartChoice Express, phase one of its new digital storefront, at 30 dealerships in south Florida. Customers of those stores will be able to use their credit cards to reserve a car they want to buy.
For AutoNation, the country's largest dealership group, it's the culmination of a multiyear project to make purchasing a car more like buying electronics from Apple online or books from Amazon.
"We clearly saw that the consumer was having wonderful experiences online in other businesses, and when it came to automotive, there was this huge disconnect," Jackson said.
"That's the reason the third parties exist. All the manufacturers talk about it; every retailer feels it. The hard part is: What's the answer? After a lot of thought, a lot of research, a lot of testing, we feel that this is a very compelling answer."
As part of the effort, AutoNation is reducing its use of third-party lead providers such as TrueCar.com and Edmunds.com. In July, the retailer said 13 percent of its sales resulted from third-party leads but at an expense much higher than the cost of sales generated internally.