Editor's note: Aaron Baldwin's title is senior vice president of business development. His title was incorrect in an earlier version of this story.
Automakers have begun to view online retailing as an important tool that dealers should be using alongside dealership management systems and customer relationship management software.
Digital vendors say automakers' interest is growing as everything from books to shoes and, increasingly, cars and trucks are being bought online. Some dealers have pushed for automakers to get more involved as consumers increasingly seek a seamless online shopping experience.
A program Toyota plans to launch this summer indicates that some are listening. Dealership enrollment for the initiative, called the Toyota Dealer Digital Solutions Certified Website Program, began in March, Josh Hoffmann, senior manager of dealer digital marketing at Toyota Motor North America, wrote in an email.
"The program is designed to better meet dealer needs while simultaneously focusing on evolving consumer behaviors and expectations," Hoffmann said. Certified categories will include chat and text, trade-in evaluation, service appointment schedulers, video creation providers and digital retailing platforms. Dealerships will have eight certified website providers and dozens of certified third-party tool providers to select from, Hoffmann said.
Roadster is among the digital retailing vendors Toyota certified for the program. Roadster officials said the company also is now an approved Mercedes-Benz digital retailing vendor, as it is for Audi, Hyundai and Lexus. A spokeswoman for Mercedes-Benz did not respond to requests for comment.
Roadster CEO Andy Moss said the company will add another handful of automaker brands in the next month or two. He declined to name them because contracts were not finalized.
"We're seeing just a tremendous amount of activity now from the [automakers] in really wanting to push their dealers to adopt digital retailing," Moss said. He likens the "coming of age" for digital retailing to the period two decades ago when dealers realized they needed their own websites.
In addition to certifying vendors to help dealers solve the digital retailing puzzle, automakers have launched their own programs. Hyundai in 2018 rolled out Shopper Assurance nationwide. It has four elements: transparent pricing, flexible test drives, online transaction processing and a three-day money-back guarantee. Hyundai Motor America marketing chief Dean Evans said this year that not all Hyundai dealers were participating in the voluntary program, but most had adopted it.