Tim Cox, who is one of the founders of CarNow, said his company reached out to the top five dealers using its BuyNow digital retail platform and asked what had enabled their success.
The common thread of their responses?
"You have to have a champion inside your store. Period,” Cox said in an interview earlier this year at NADA Show 2019 in San Francisco.
“Somebody's got to own it. I have a pre-owned manager, I have an F&I manager, so whether it's my tool or somebody else's, they've got to have somebody that comes in and looks at that dashboard every day,” he said. “And then they have to respect what the customer did through the process ... and then when (the customers) come in, it's a different VIP process.
“That's the main thing: If dealerships get that right, game-changer,” Cox said. “We've seen it.”
CarNow’s product line includes the BuyNow digital retail platform, the MessageNow chat function and in-store experience tools through kiosks and iPads.
"They key to all that is, no matter where the customer goes, they have the same experience,” Cox said. “Whether it's a chat, a text, Facebook Messenger or Marketplace, they come to the digital retailing (platform) or they come to the store, it follows them. Their information follows them. One dashboard, easy to measure for the dealers.”
‘More and more momentum’
Digital retailing has become one of the most talked-about topics in the auto industry over the last handful of years, both in terms of online marketplaces outside of traditional dealerships to the dealers themselves providing online buying, often through providers like CarNow and a bevy of others.
Vroom, much like its peer Carvana, is one of those online marketplaces selling directly to consumers.
In a March interview, AuSM asked Vroom chief executive officer Paul Hennessy what consumer shopping behaviors make it more advantageous for digital retail to emerge in automotive.
There is a high level, “broad-based move online” with retail, and cars are now part of that “ecommerce realm,” Hennessy said.
“It's been building over time. (Vroom has) been at this five years, and so we’re just seeing more and more momentum of broad-based demand moving online,” he said.
“First and foremost, there's just an appetite in the marketplace for that. And then we even see that with some of our contemporaries and how well they're doing, selling cars online,” Hennessy said. “So, I think that this, in the coming months and years, will be a less interesting topic … but right now, because there's still a level of newness, and because we're up against a traditional model, there's a lot to hear about it.”
Beyond the “swell moving online,” Hennessy emphasized that choice, pricing and transparency are of utmost importance to consumers.
“We've found as we've scaled inventory, as we've listened to demand signals in the marketplace, as we're having the right cars at the right price, that facilitates higher interest, higher conversion,” he said. “And our approach with a full transparency, no haggle, combined with seven-day test drives, 250-mile exercise of the car — all of these elements are resonating with consumers and therefore they're voting with their wallets by purchasing.
“But I think the key elements are there's a broad set of inventory, a great product offering and then transparency ... taking all the friction points out of the process is resonating well with consumers.”
And dealers are seeing the importance of digital retailing options, as was evident at the NADA show.
Cox, and a former dealer himself and one of the speakers lined up for the Auto Intel Summit next month, said there was enough “buzz” at the NADA convention to where digital retailing is likely to turn a corner this year.
“Most dealers are under the impression that they know they have to do something. And consumers are expecting some form of digital retailing,” Cox said.
He was predicting that from the NADA Show onward, there would “be a big impact on how many dealers are utilizing the tool;” however, Cox emphasized that, “the results are going to be based on, are they just putting a widget on their site or are they really doing things to enhance the process for the customer, and add process on the back end of the tool?"
After all, perhaps the main point of digital retail is to do exactly that: Improve the process for the end consumer.