Meantime, dealers hunt for advantages in tracking lead sources, identifying customer desires and designing offers. BY JON MCKENNA

Informational kiosks have been on the dealership scene for years. Who hasn’t encountered one of the OEM-provided machines in a dealership lobby, essentially serving as an electronic brand brochure for customers?

What haven’t been around are customizable kiosks that serve the dealer’s needs, not the manufacturer’s, and zip a customer faster through the research, sales, F&I or service processes faster. Companies offering these machines are betting they are still at the beginning of a dealership technology life cycle that could last at least another seven to 10 years, plenty of time for them to capitalize.

That assessment may strike the average person as odd. First of all, kiosks are not new technology. Second, aren’t dealers being told by every marketing consultant that the information and processes being housed on the new kiosks (for example, customer check-in, a full lot inventory or a video walk-around) must be pushed onto their websites to satisfy today’s digital-insistent buyers, particularly the millennials?

Todd Marcelle 1Walk-In Appeal Still Matters

Well, customers still walk into dealerships, they need to be greeted, and automotive still lags way behind most other retail sectors in meeting them with engaging, self-service technology, said Todd Marcelle, CEO and co-founder of Dulles, Va.-based GoMoto. His is one of three providers that are probably best-known in the customizable dealership kiosk space (the others are Digital Dealership System Inc. of West Palm Beach, Fla., and Integrated Computer Solutions of Bedford, Mass. And its ViewPoint product line).

“At most dealerships, the customer still walks in, a salesperson still greets you and sits you down at a desk, and still starts the entire transaction assuming the customer has little-to-no information about the product,” Marcelle said.

Plus, even if many dealerships had loaded that much information and processes onto their websites for customers to view and use (which they haven’t), there’s a big difference between using a computer, phone or tablet screen and a 24-inch split-screen on a kiosk, noted Todd Katcher, managing partner at Digital Dealership System.

“Just like with digital signage, the main role [of a dealership kiosk] is to show something they haven’t seen before, or deliver it in a way they haven’t had before,” he explained. “They way they’re interacting with the machine is much more visual, much more feedback-oriented. A lot of people are getting information online prior to coming to the dealership, but we’re trying to reposition that information in such a way that makes it a unique buying experience.” 

What A Dealer Might Pay

What does that experience cost a dealer? The monthly fee (think of it like a lease) for a GoMoto cloud-based HUB unit is about $1,200, covering hardware, software, mobile device-enablement, staff training and back-end analytics. Digital Dealership System’s kiosks, whose applications are housed on the system, start at about $500 per month for a 24-inch screen.

GoMoto does not disclose how many units it has in U.S. dealerships. Digital Dealership Systems has just over 50 kiosks in dealerships, where its bigger penetration comes from digital signs (more than 500).

The functionality of these systems compared with the older-technology “brochure” kiosks is truly impressive. The technology is still evolving, and vendors are constantly developing new features that can be selected.

Some Functions You Could Choose

For example, on a GoMoto HUB kiosk, a customer can check in to start an appointment, enter contact his or her contact information, have a driver’s license scanned, and answer a few questions about how and why they came to that dealership. That information is packaged as a lead and uploaded to the dealership’s CRM system, regardless of CRM vendor.

That customer then can review vehicles on the lot and their specs, get a virtual walk-around of one car by entering its VIN, schedule a test drive and arrange to have a product brochure e-mailed. If the customer is willing to enter the VIN on his or her current vehicle, then service specials will be customized to that car, and the customer can digitally claim promotional offers on a current or future visit. If he or she responds to prompts to value a potential trade-in, that information can be transmitted immediately to the used car manager and CRM.

Or, a customer could choose to start a track of educational videos about F&I products. If he or she indicates an interest in a particular product, the F&I manager is electronically alerted to that fact, and earned incentives can be e-mailed back to the customer. Plus, a hard or soft credit pull could be initiated from the kiosk.

Digital Dealership System emphasizes its flexibility in customizing a kiosk for a particular dealership’s needs. For example, a customer getting ready to complete a sale could use the kiosk to schedule the first service appointment from the sales floor, rather than take time later. Some of its customers devote a single kiosk to valuing and initiating trade-ins, Katcher said, while others dedicate one to siphoning away long lines at the cashier to set appointments.

In a more whiz-bang sense, a shopper could use one of the company’s units to compare different makes and models (for example, a Honda Accord vs. a Toyota Camry) for engine performance, MSRP and other standard features while shopping. Another Digital Dealership System application lets customers digitally “build” the car of their dreams with manufacturer-provided accessories, just to get an advance look.

Todd Marcelle 2Tracking Source Of Sales Leads

The ability to use the kiosk interaction to more accurately pinpoint what message led a customer to visit the dealership, and to refine marketing spend accordingly, is an advantage that all of the manufacturers tout. “Most stores are only accurately tracking 40 to 70% of the customers who come through their showrooms,” according to Marcelle.

His company is noticing the most dealership usage of advanced kiosks in sales (particularly for check-in, starting the purchase and arranging a test drive), remote tracking (by tablet) of interest in F&I products, and sales of service work. Katcher’s company is getting the most traction in the sales and service departments.

Despite the promises of enhanced customer engagement and tracking, calculating ROI on kiosks can be something of a murky project for a dealer, as with any prong of a marketing investment.

They would need to attribute benefits to data that helps validate the effectiveness of sales and marketing efforts, the ability to identify the source of sales leads, and the expectation that CSI scores will improve if customers are spending less time in the dealership.

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