Jon Sederstrom, managing director of strategic initiatives for J.D. Power's global automotive division, told Automotive News that customers who spend hours researching online want that effort to translate into time saved at the dealership.
Achieving that will require dealers to choose technology and develop processes that provide a consistent experience, both for customers who want to do as much as they can online and for those who prefer to finish a deal in person, Sederstrom said. One way to do that is to use the same digital platform online and at the dealership.
"You have a real opportunity to make that connection and reward those customers who are doing some of the upfront work online, but that is going to be most effective if you continue using the tool in the showroom," he said.
Dealers should choose a tool that is user-friendly and can be used in the dealership as a sales employee works side-by-side with a customer, said David Kain, president of Kain Automotive, a dealership training company. It should be one that employees are comfortable using live with customers and that can pull up a shopper's transaction activity from the point at which he or she stopped, Kain said. Using a screen in the store similar to the one seen online helps build trust with consumers.
"That's what we're looking for, is that omnipresent, same experience, omnichannel approach — not from a marketing standpoint, but from a process standpoint," Kain said. "There's not any dealer that I've talked to that would be against that."
Agresta said his group is working on building a texting tool that will allow a sales employee to jump into a digital transaction with a customer and shorten the sales cycle by starting a purchase directly over chat, rather than through a traditional lead form.
If customers want to stay in the digital world, they should be able to, and if they want to transact in person, the text tool could facilitate the transition, he said.
"We want to jump in and keep them moving," Agresta said. "We don't want to stop the process."
Michael Martinez contributed to this report.