Roadster is adding to the list of automakers for which it provides digital retailing services.
After digital retailing partnerships with Lexus, Audi and Hyundai, Roadster is broadening its work with Toyota Motor North America and partnering with Mercedes-Benz for its first-ever approved digital retail program.
The Roadster online-to-in-store solution will be offered to all 386 Mercedes-Benz, Sprinter and smart dealerships in the U.S., as well as the 1,243 Toyota and 240 Lexus stores in the U.S.
The Toyota program is Toyota Dealer Digital Systems 2.0 and is an element of the company’s larger digital offerings launch. Lexus’ platform is Amazing Digital Experiences, while the Mercedes platform is Mercedes-Benz USA Certified Digital Retailing Program.
“As part of the new agreements with OEMs, Roadster’s unique omni-channel retailing solution will empower dealerships to create greater efficiencies by offering a consistent and streamlined, end-to-end car buying and selling experience,” Roadster said in an email detailing the partnerships.
The Express Storefront platform from Roadster lets dealers automate all car-buying steps. And beyond the host of tools available through that platform, the company said “Roadster’s robust digital retailing approach will also empower salespeople to improve the in-store car shopping experience.”
Roadster is one of four digital retailing solutions that Mercedes-Benz uses and one of six that Toyota and Lexus use, a Roadster spokesperson said.
- Toyota (TDDS 2.0): Roadster, Dealer.com, CarNow, Prodigy, Dealer eProcess, DealerInspire, Gubagoo
- Lexus: Roadster, Dealer.com, DealerOn, Dealer eProcess, Dealer Inspire, DealerSocket
- Mercedes-Benz: Roadster, CarNow, Drive, MotoInsight
Why automakers move into digital retail
During a phone interview Monday, Roadster chief executive officer Andy Moss explained why automakers have made digital retail a priority on a dealer body level.
"It's all about desire to improve the consumer experience. There are other players proving consumers really do want that digital experience, whether it's the Teslas or the Carvanas of the world,” Moss said. “I think from a manufacturer perspective, they spend a great deal of money on their brand, on the facilities, on training their people around their vehicles and all that kind of stuff, but they're also very aware that it can still take a long time to get through the experience of buying a car.
“And that's a great way to improve the brand experience in working with them,” he said. “Much like dealers themselves, I think the OEMs are very keen to move to this more modern way of car-buying."
And lately, the automakers have been turning to third-party providers like Roadster and others, as evident by the list of digital retailing service providers referenced earlier.
In the time since Roadster switched from a consumer-facing to dealer-facing model more than three years ago, Moss said he has noticed such changes in how automakers approach digital retail, going the third-party route versus in-house.
"I do think there were a lot of projects internally at that time, where the OEMs were working on internal projects to actually bring some of this to market,” Moss said. “But what I think we've seen is, that with just the sheer pace of new technology being introduced with ourselves and others and actually getting a lot of dealers using that technology, I think it's just been the case that it may be hard to get those projects to fruition in a consumer-facing way.
"The Silicon Valley and the startup approach to solving those problems has actually proved to work in practice. I think we did it the right way, which was actually getting dealers using the software and proving the value,” he said. “As we got a number of those dealers live, I think that then piqued the attention of the OEMs. And the projects they were doing internally, it was easier in some ways for them to actually widen to a partner program and have a set of choices for their dealers that were already in market.”
OEMs add another 'layer'
Moss said Roadster’s bread-and-butter remains dealerships, particularly on the group level. The automaker partnerships then add another level.
“We still obviously do individual (dealership) points, as well, but our sweet spot is actually working with a group across all of their stores and brands. And we've had a lot of success with that kind of a model,” Moss said.
"What I think the OEM layer brings is, sort of, an endorsement of the importance of their retail networks to move to digital retailing and opportunities for the dealer to actually apply certain incentives and other stuff that may be made available from the OEM as participation in that program,” he said. “And in some cases, the OEM may actually be somewhat restrictive as to which technologies you can use from a go-to-market perspective as a dealer. So, much like they've done with some of the website programs, the same is the case with digital retailing, that there are certain approved vendors. Some of the brands, you're pretty restricted into exactly what you can use.
"Others, the ones we're talking about now, Mercedes and Toyota and Lexus, they don't prevent any dealer from working with any technology. But the incentives that they will provide and the support they'll give you is just at a different level if you're part of the official program,” he explained.
Digital retail poised for growth
In a separate story in AuSM this week, EchoPark Automotive — the standalone used-car store program from Sonic Automotive — was described as having moved from the “Petri dish” to “significant growth mode.”
Moss said it is “absolutely the case" that digital retail is now in growth mode, and OEMs getting into the game is emblematic of such expansion.
“I think they are indicative that digital retailing is going to be perceived in a couple of years’ time in the same way that having a website is viewed today,” Moss said. “It will become just a way of doing business that will be something that every dealer has to support in the same way that they have to provide websites today.”