As early as 2006, a little known sole-proprietorship known as Ai-Dealer was attempting to introduce the idea of an online shopping cart for consumers to purchase their vehicle on a dealer’s website. CRM trailblazer Brian Hoecht had begun working with a handful of dealers to integrate their DMS with his technology to support online shopping and financing directly on the dealership’s website. At the time, the idea was a stretch for consumers and dealers and the industry alike.
Fast forward ten years, there are now multiple companies providing dealers with the ability to allow website visitors the option to purchase online, each with their own unique approach and features. However, there appears to be quite a division in thinking throughout the industry as to the role that online vehicle checkout plays and what it means to the industry and to consumers.
Recently, while at the 21st Digital Dealer Conference in Las Vegas, I had the opportunity to conduct a phone interview with the CEO of one of these companies – Aaron Krane of Drive Motors, along with DealerRefresh Chief Editor Jeff Kershner. Drive Motors builds commerce experiences for auto dealers. During our conversation Jeff and I were able to get a glimpse of Aaron’s vision for how he sees consumers and dealers responding to this growing capability.
Below are excerpts from our interview:
DR: What percentage of consumers want the ability to purchase their vehicle online and how do you know?
AK: Our dealership customers tell us that presently, at least 40% of their customers would prefer to buy their vehicles online, and this figure will only increase. A recent Accenture study reported that three out of four car buyers would prefer to complete the entire buying process online.
DR: What is the feedback like from dealership personnel at dealerships offering consumers this option?
AK: Dealership staff love that customers who use online checkout will not only sell themselves, but also upsell themselves, while the store is closed. That means orders through Drive Motors convert to sale at over 10-times the rate of leads, and have a higher PVR than many stores’ averages. Moreover, in the words of one dealership, online checkout customers are “ecstatic.”
DR: How do online vehicle purchases affect financing and other aspects of the sale?
AK: Drive Motors lets dealerships offer any lease or financing plans they want, and it actually has the most comprehensive and up-to-date source of rates, incentives, and rebates, in the entire market. That means customers get clear monthly payment indications, and they don’t grind on rates.
DR: How are dealers handling the trade-in and financing aspects of the sale when conducted online? What is the customer experience like?
AK: With online checkout, the customer can place an order for a dealer’s vehicle, add a trade-in, choose financing, and the customer feels “closed.” However, the dealership does not actually commit to the sale until it is transacted in-person, and the dealer has verified customer information, as well as inspected the trade-in.
DR: How does online checkout affect front-end gross and profitability?
AK: Sales through Drive Motors online checkout consistently exceed a store’s average profit per vehicle, often by hundreds — if not thousands — of dollars. This is because online checkout lets dealerships offer customized add-ons, and when customers are in their comfort zone, they upsell themselves.
DR: What do you look for in a dealership to ensure that offering online checkout is a good direction for them?
AK: Online checkout is a fantastic option for any dealership, but it’s much more effective when the dealership has an impressive website, and also an active online-advertising strategy. Of course, car pricing is also critical.
DR: What are some of obstacles and challenges dealers experience when offering customers the option to conduct their purchase online?
AK: There is no real challenge to trying online checkout by Drive Motors; we’ve made it a no-brainer. Setup entails cut-and-pasting one line of code into the dealer website; no further inventory connection is required. Then, when sales occur, the complete data is shared seamlessly into the dealer’s existing financing software.
DR: What is one on-point message you’d like the industry to know around the idea of consumers conducting their vehicle purchase online?
AK: “Let your customers close and upsell themselves with online checkout, day or night, and you’ll get more sales, with more sale profit, while your store is closed.”
Aaron is one of a handful of key thinkers and innovators we have spoken with on this subject, including dealers, auto group leaders, and thought leaders alike. As you can see, he claims that as many as 40% of consumers prefer online checkout, a statistic consistent with what Prodigy CEO Michia Rohrssen suggests in his piece Online Sales Isn’t the Future of Car Buying…
As Bill Playford said, “Today’s buyers are online, like it or not. They’re using their smartphones to do research about cars and pricing (even when they are on your lot,) utilizing technology to be as savvy as possible throughout the entire experience. How does anyone expect them, or anyone who comes after them, to stop using a buying channel that they’re used to?”
As Edward Latham suggested in his 2007 Auto News article, “…you just know it’s going to spread.”