digital retailing

A buzzword in the automotive industry that seems to be losing its impact is digital retailing. Meaning different things to different people and with engagement at varying levels between OEMs and dealers, it’s often unclear how the customer journey will be affected in the future with digital means. 

Jared Dowdy is the Senior Manager of Retail Process and Sales Training at Hyundai Motor America. He spoke with CBT News and answered a few questions about digital retailing, how it affects dealers, and what Hyundai is doing to shore up the customer experience going forward. 

Q: What pain points does digital retailing address for the consumer? 

Jared: Time, transparency, and honesty – all things that we struggle with from a J.D. Power SSI perspective and have struggled with for a number of years. Digital retail addresses all of those and provides a much better transparent and honest customer experience.  

Q: How will digital retailing as an end-to-end solution affect dealer operations? 

Jared: Ultimately, it is an end-to-end solution that takes the customer in and out of the purchase funnel when they choose, however many times they want. The point there is that it’s seamless and the same things they’re seeing online, they’re seeing instore if they visit a store. So, that’s ultimately what we’re trying to accomplish is that seamless customer experience. 

How that affects dealerships and affects their business is it’s a huge transformation. We’ve been in partnership with Roadster for the past four or five years, trying to take this forward, dealerships weren’t ready for it [and were] pushing back. The were a little bit resistant to the use of technology and the transparency that provides to customers. A lot of it is command and control – “I want to be in control of the sales process” – but the customer wants to feel like they’re in control of their own purchase. But with this being the second-largest purchase that most people will make in their lifetime, they want to feel like they’re in control, and a lot of dealership mentality is to be in control of that process, control the gross, control where this goes. Really, digital retailing is taking us out of that mindset and opening it up. 

It’s not sacrificing gross. We’re not sacrificing the amount of vehicles we’ll sell. In fact, it will open up and increase that. We just have to change the mentality and show dealers this is a good thing. It’s good for vehicle sales, it’s great for overall gross and health and profitability for your dealership.  

Q: You mentioned dealers that a few years ago dealers pushed back… 

Jared: I’m here to tell you, to take you back in time a little bit, this isn’t something new. This isn’t a new concept. We were just ‘forced’ into it given the pandemic and everything that happened. The reason I say this isn’t something new is that I come from retail. I worked for an automotive group in San Diego back in the early 2000’s. We were actually doing this working with computer desktops and providing that transparency. On a computer screen we were showing the customer the sale price, monthly payment, taxes and fees, term, interest rate – all those things. We were showing F&I products up front as a salesperson on a computer screen transparently. That process started way back then.

As for where we are now, dealers have been forced to adopt this quicker than they’re comfortable with because of the pandemic and because of the social distancing and things of that nature… Had tablets been a thing back then, we’d have been doing all these things on a tablet instead of a computer screen.  

Q: Where do you expect we’ll be in about 12 months? 

Jared: I can’t speak for every OEM but I can speak for us and our brand. We’ve shifted our mindset. Over the past year, we have certain standards that dealers have to abide by to earn certain earn-back money or money that we offer them from us as the OEM for every vehicle sold. A large part of that from the sales side is digital retail activity – making sure that they’re meeting all of our requirements and our standards from a digital retail perspective.

This year, we’ve changed that mindset to evolve. Dealers are going to be required by midyear to have a process in place to where they’re showing every customer price, payment option, taxes and fees, all those things, on a tablet through a digital retail tool. So that’s a standard that we’ve just launched that they’ll have to adhere to by the second quarter or fall out of qualifying for earn-back money. 

One of the reasons we implemented that this year is that one of our biggest pain points has been the lack of use of technology throughout the sales process. The whole F&I process from when they decide they want to buy the car through signing all the final documents and getting to delivery is an arduous process so we’re trying to shore that up, make sure that process is open, and help save the customer some time and get through that process a little quicker.  

Q: How do you feel about presenting F&I before a customer’s decision to purchase? 

Jared: Personally, I think that it needs to happen and we need to educate customers early and often about our products. Roadster has several decks they’ve presented to dealers and field staff that back that up. The more you expose customers to those products early on, the more likely they are to choose those products when it comes time to make that decision. 

Here’s the bottom line. If I’m in the F&I office and they present me an extended warranty and step out for a second, the first thing I’m going to do is pull out my phone and price shop that. We have so much technology at our fingertips, why not be transparent about it? They’re going to find out anyway. 

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