Roadster to offer dealers 100% online retail tool

SAN FRANCISCO  - 

Roadster will be making its e-commerce platform available to dealers as a white-labeled solution, the company said Thursday.

Through the platform, called Express Storefront, dealers will be able to put the entire car-buying process online, “from merchandising through home delivery,” Roadster said.

It will initially be available just for new cars, but Roadster plans to make it available on used cars in a matter of months.

For those who are not familiar with Roadster, it is an e-commerce platform that allows 100-percent online car-buying through Roadster.com and partner dealer websites. 

“The positive impact our white labeled Express Storefront can have on dealerships is extraordinary,” Roadster chief executive officer Andy Moss said in a news release.  “With our e-commerce platform, dealerships now have the ability to increase sales efficiency, as well as offer all of their warranties, service plans and trade-in offers instantly and transparently. 

“It’s a way of shopping that consumers have grown to expect in every other category and we’re thrilled to be bringing this important solution to the marketplace,” he said.

 AuSM caught up with Roadster chief operating officer Rudi Thun to learn more.

Thun's background in automotive includes leadership roles with AOL Autos, CarWoo, eBay Motors and Ford.   

“The transition that we’re in right now and why we’re launching this new product is that we actually had quite a few dealerships and dealer groups that we were working with say, ‘This is how we’d like to sell cars, ourselves, and your platform is very appealing; build this for us, please,’” Thun said in a phone interview. “And after I heard that enough times, it made a lot of sense.”

Dealerships have a strong interest in making the sale more efficient and bringing more of that process online, Thun said. Roadster’s product is designed to do just that, allowing all steps of the transaction to be completed online while also enabling home delivery.

And just as they would on Roadster’s website, consumers will have an online “concierge” to guide them through the process.  

“Your customers are kind of expecting much more of an e-commerce-like experience when they’re buying new cars,” Thun said. “Certainly millennials do, but I think every generation likes the concept of buying online and having something delivered to your house.

“This platform enables both a more efficient sales process for the dealership as well as a differentiated buying experience,” he said, “and net-net, they should have better margins overall and disproportionate share of the market, based on launching this and using it.”

It’s not a lead-generation platform, Thun emphasized. The product is designed to be an e-commerce platform where a consumer and dealer can desk a deal together online.

Roadster plans to have two dealers on the product “very quickly” then phase in others. It has roughly 20 in the pipeline ready to roll. It will start in California, but one of the dealer groups that Roadster will be working with has stores in other states, so it would be relatively simple for the program to move outside California quickly, Thun said.

Flexibility

Another key point: if a consumer wants to complete any of the steps in person at the dealership, that option is available, too.   

Moreover, even if a customer started the entire process off-line by walking into the dealership, he or she could still use this program to complete the entire process online but inside the dealership walls, Thun said.

The Roadster platform is designed to be mobile-first, so a dealership could ask the customer if he or she would like to take care of all steps in the buying process through an iPad while on the dealer lot.  

“Think about how much more efficient that would and could be for a dealership,” he said.

‘The way consumers want to be able to shop and transact’

Toyota Marin, located north of San Francisco, is the first store that will be utilizing this platform.

Mike Christian, the general manager of Toyota Marin and a partner at Price Simms Auto Group explained why his store chose to be an early adopter for the program.

“The primary driver is that this is the way consumers want to be able to shop and transact, and the automotive industry is really the only industry that I can think of that doesn’t provide this type of service,” Christian said in a phone interview.

As to why the auto industry hadn’t gotten on board earlier with online transacting, Christian said part of it has to do with the necessary technology.

Creating this type of project can be pricey and complicated, so dealers — even forward-thinking ones, he said –—were often averse to being pioneers in e-commerce.

And many were perhaps tied to old ways of thinking. 

Christian shared a phrase he says dealers having been using for decades: “You wouldn’t buy a pair of shoes without trying them on, so you want to take your car for a test drive.”

But even that phrase is not really apt anymore, he says, given what companies like Zappos have been able to accomplish.

Another challenge: legal hurdles.

Some of the legislation from pre-Internet days regulating the auto business can also make e-commerce tricky, Christian said.

Then there’s whole marketing side of the equation. The technology is available and your store has it; how do you make customers aware of it? That, Christian said, can be a costly endeavor.

“And along those lines, since it is relatively new and it’s a large ticket item, how do we get customers comfortable completing a large ticket [purchase] completely over the Internet?” Christian said.

For Christian's group, a big part of that is assurance. 

Long before this technology was on the market, Price Simms Auto Group has had a value guarantee and an exchange policy to help assuage anxiety or buyer’s remorse. They provide a three-day, 250-mile return policy and a seven-day/700-mile exchange policy.

The thinking is, if you can calm a customer’s anxieties over buying the wrong vehicle or paying too much, Christian says a more relaxed customer will be able to focus on the task at hand: engaging on the site, building and structuring the deal, then ultimately making the purchase.

And that goes back to what he said regarding the test drive. A customer is going to be able to get a better feel for the car — good, bad or otherwise — during the return or exchange period than he or she would during a brief test drive.

‘They don’t want to deal with any type of hassle’

Christian said he anticipates that a wide range of customer demographics will choose to go this route at his San Francisco Bay Area store and he expects this type of concept to spread similarly across the country in coming years.

When it initially launches, he expects it to resonate with busy executives, repeat/referral customers who already have a familiarity/comfort with his store and millennials.

“There’s been study after study that (show) people nowadays really don’t want to negotiate, they don’t want to deal with any type of hassle. They want to just know that they’re getting a good, fair deal and great service,” Christian said. “This allows us to be able to offer those things, and really, who wouldn’t want to take advantage of it?”

 



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