Automotive digital retailing has reached its tipping point, as automakers such as Toyota roll out programs to certify vendors in this realm.
That said, it would seem the ability for the consumer to start a transaction online, leave a trail of data and eventually make his or her way to the showroom would complicate things.
Maybe it does, but overall, digital retailing should simplify the process for customers and dealers alike. So say the vendors who are helping dealers set up the digital retailing experience. Of course, those companies are selling a product, so it's natural that they'd call it a win-win — but their reasoning seems sound.
With more data comes the opportunity for greater efficiency, Roadster CEO Andy Moss told us. Digital retailing vendor Roadster can give dealers analytics around how often a sales agent keeps a person waiting for any step of the buying journey, for example. Maybe customers at home will get as far as the credit application, then stall out on their buying trip. Or, if there's a trade-in to appraise, dealers can see how quickly a customer gets a firm offer.
"With all this digitizing, it brings a lot of opportunity because now you've got something you can actually iterate around and make better," Moss said.
And digital retailing's improvement of the buying journey can extend to the showroom, said Michelle Denogean, Roadster's chief marketing officer.
"It's handing that keyboard or iPad to the customer so that they can start to interact with these numbers and do some of the penciling themselves," Denogean said. "And that interaction, that transparency of, 'Wait, I don't have to go and do some magic behind the desk and then come back to you while you're waiting for me. Let's do it together' — it's what drives a lot of the trust on the customer satisfaction scores."
It also saves time for dealership personnel and customers alike, Denogean said.
So in digital retailing, with more data and touch points, comes more opportunity.
And anyway, Andy MacLeay, director of digital marketing for Cox Automotive's Dealer.com, said he doesn't think the buying process was any less complex more than a century ago when the transportation purveyors of that era were selling horses.
"Perhaps there's a lot more touch points, but I think what we're doing now is we've got a much better engine to track all of that behavior throughout the process," MacLeay said.
And dealers can now better identify the bottlenecks and friction points and address them accordingly as they try to get the customers into the showroom. After all, MacLeay says, retailers worth their salt know that time spent inside the dealership leads to better customer satisfaction.