Dealerships Embrace the Need to Add Online Purchasing, Financing Options

© Can Stock Photo / Zinkevych

GRAPEVINE, Texas — With technology advancing in the auto industry and a generation of tech-savvy buyers in need of transportation, several dealership groups are attempting to meet the customers where they are — online.

A growing percentage of customers are looking for an easier method of buying a car from a dealership evidenced by a Springbaord study that found consumers were  133% more likely to rate their experience highly if they financed online. At the DRIVE Lending Conference here earlier this month, a panel of dealers explained how their dealerships were embracing digital retailing as a means to reach customers who were dissatisfied with purchasing a vehicle in the showroom.

“We’ve been approached by quite a few outside sources to implement programs through our website, social media, and so forth to initiate a transaction and to follow through the entire transaction,” said Ralph Larson, finance director of F&I at Dick Hannah Auto Group.

Typically, Vancouver, Washington-based Dick Hannah Auto Group finds that most customers have already completed most of the purchasing process before they arrive at the physical address. The dealership is working on ways to “advance that sale further and pretty much plug everything up by the time the customer gets to us,” Larson added.

While some dealerships may opt to produce their own program, there are sufficient third-party providers offering off-the-shelf solutions. However, each program does not work for every dealership and adjustments may be required to make it fit.

“We’ve tried a few [third-party providers] and it feels like we’re about 70% of the way there — we just have to tweak it to get it to fit what we are trying to do,” said Danny Cox, senior director of F&I at Ken Garff Auto Group. “We know we have to be flexible in some areas, but demanding in others to make sure that this process has a flow to it.”

Cox also stressed that it was important for customers to have the opportunity to see multiple options for purchasing and financing a vehicle and is working with lender partners to figure out that “secret sauce.”

Part of the benefit of completing the car-buying process online is the speed, said Kara Brinley, vice president and general manager of the Texas branch of Penske Motor Group, adding that consumers can complete the application at their own pace.

“I went to a leadership conference at Google headquarters two months ago and was surprised to hear that 27 million consumers still came into the showroom to test ride,” Brinley said. “Yet, over double actually did their test drive through YouTube, which just reiterates the fact that more and more consumers are wanting to have that speed and be able to do it in their home or wherever, so that’s something we’ve been trying to mimic.”

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