After using a new online shopping tool for two months, the closing rate for Internet sales at Pennsylvania dealership Lexus of Lehigh Valley shot up by 9 percentage points.
That positive pilot result pushed Lexus to name dealership technology startup Roadster as one of four approved digital retail partners, the automaker said last month.
"Our goal to treat customers as we would a guest in our home also translates into the digital ecosystem," Lexus spokesman Ed Hellwig said in an email to Automotive News. "We constantly strive to offer our dealers the best digital solutions in which to accomplish that goal."
In addition to Roadster, Lexus has approved TagRail, Dealer.com and CDK Global as digital partners in an initiative by the brand to boost online retailing options for its dealership network. Roadster and TagRail create digital storefronts on dealership websites. Dealer.com and CDK offer their own online retailing tools.
With its platform, Roadster, of Palo Alto, Calif., aims to provide a seamless car-buying experience whether consumers are shopping from their computer, mobile device or in the store.
Between 40 and 50 new- and used-vehicle customers per month start their transactions on Lexus of Lehigh Valley's website, said Mike Price, director of variable operations for the dealership in Allentown, Pa. In its weakest month, the closing rate of those customers was a still-high 15.7 percent. The peak closing rate was 21.9 percent, he said.
Before using Roadster, Lexus of Lehigh Valley's customers had to wait for the sales department or Internet department to respond to their messages. The average close rate in that scenario is about 13 percent, he said. "It's a cumbersome, painful way of buying a car online," Price said.
Once the dealership began piloting Roadster's online tool in February 2017, "it was effortless," Price said. "There were virtually no emails back and forth; there were virtually no phone calls back and forth until the end. The customer is able to engineer their own deal."
Roadster enables customers to initiate their deals online and pick up where they left off in the store. Lexus of Lehigh Valley sales associates began using the in-store tool months before the online tool launched to ensure that they understood how to navigate the software, Price said.
The platform came with an unexpected benefit, Price said. Because it helps narrow down inventory options, it functions as a coach for his sales team, and it boosts their confidence. "Not only does the new salesperson come across with more credibility, but it can help prevent salesperson turnover," he said.
"The way the consumer buys cars is a huge untapped opportunity," Roadster CEO Andy Moss said. "What we're really looking at is how do you move the consumer to provide the same experience in car buying that they are used to in pretty much every category of their life."
Up to a dozen Lexus stores are using Roadster, and more are likely to join, Moss said. The approved partner status from Lexus, with 240 U.S. dealerships in total, "puts us in a very strong position to partner with a lot of dealers in that area," he said.
Price noted that automakers are cautious about approving vendors because they want to protect the customer experience. But customers increasingly expect to be able to shop online without snags or do-overs.
"Customers today don't simply want to buy a luxury car. They want to have a luxury experience buying the car," Price said. "The online-offline solution is an integral part of that luxury experience."