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It’s Time for Dealerships to Catch Up

The F&I Online Revolution is Here!

By: Becky Chernek

It’s an established fact that many auto dealers fear change. But taking an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach in the 21st century is tantamount to stagnation—or worse, devolution—especially where the online world is concerned. If you look around, you’ll notice that many successful dealers are taking to the interwebs and revamping their online presences in order to appeal to a new generation of “connected” buyers. And if your dealership hasn’t at least considered this, it’s high time that it did.

Getting In On Web Solutions

For better or for worse, the internet has changed the world. People today expect to be able to find anything and everything online – from electronics to homes and from spouses to automobiles. The bottom line is, it’s no longer enough for a car dealership to have a website. That site has got to take cues from today’s success stories, leveraging the many web solutions that are making auto sales easier and more profitable for all.

Scout Automotive is a web solution that incorporates into the dealership’s website, using NADA information to obtain up-to-date information that helps dealerships calibrate vehicle trade-in values. Incorporating this tool to a dealership website not only provides accurate data, but it can prevent lost sales that often result from giving customers deflated or inaccurate trade-in information.

Automark Solutions is another useful online platform. It includes an EZ Cart solution that enables customers to receive rapid, accurate prices, lease quotes, loan payoffs, financing options, and trade-in values for their cars. Customers can use this platform to get finance pre-approval direct from the comfort of their homes.

Both platforms use Equifax, which performs a “soft pull” of the buyer’s credit. Soft pulls let shoppers know what they can qualify for in real time, without requiring a Social Security Number and without registering as an inquiry on their credit score—a win-win situation for all.

These platforms can save F&I departments untold hours of time that would otherwise be spent trying to qualify customers, especially those with poor credit scores or little established credit. This eliminates the length of time customers have to spend on the lot waiting for approval, or working their way back out of a car for which they don’t they don’t qualify.

Evolution by Overhaul

Thought leaders everywhere agree that the time is right for dealerships to perform major overhauls of their websites. In 2015, AutoNation made a move to spread its digital storefronts into all of its markets, leading the charge in the natural course of the evolution of the auto dealership. The investment is said to have exceeded $100 million.

“Automotive customers out there are not as delighted as they should be with the experience they’re having in auto retail compared to what they’re having in other industries,” says Mike Jackson, CEO of AutoNation. His words provides clear indication that the auto industry is in the process of playing catch-up with the rest of the online-sales industry.

In doing so, dealerships are poised to stand independent from third-party sites like TrueCar, today’s “go-to” online resource where potential car customers perform the vast majority of their pre-purchase research. Dealerships that develop their own online storefronts will not only improve engagement with customers, but they will also gain increased visibility online—yet another hallmark of the sea change occurring in today’s auto industry.

Transforming a Dealership Website from Informational to Semi-Transactional

Companies like Make My Deal are growing fast due to their ability to network the inventory of participating dealerships into a shared database. When a customer accesses the database, they can type in their desired monthly payments and get offers on cars, bypassing the traditional (and time consuming) route of having to visit numerous car lots in search of what they want.

Dealer.com, which touts “a fully-integrated Digital Retailing experience,” offers the dealer the ability to streamline the online buying process with minimal pain and maximum effectiveness.

Platforms such as these are important in giving car buying customers precisely what they want: a fully transparent process that eliminates any possibility of surprise charges and unexpected roadblocks.

Making the transition from a purely informational website to a semi-transactional website isn’t easy, but nothing worth doing ever is. Simply listing a dealership’s inventory with accompanying photos and price listings is a process that no longer serves the average car buying public. Rebuilding a dealer website to allow for the performance of a semi-transactional experience is not only a requirement of today’s online world, but it also fosters engagement with customers early in the process. This can work wonders toward the goal of securing a customer’s business and preventing them from taking their business elsewhere.

Becky Chernek
Becky Chernek
Rebecca Chernek, founded Chernek Consulting, LLC in 2001, has nearly three decades of experience in the automobile dealership industry. She started her career by working with her father at their family-owned auto dealerships in Have De Grace, Maryland. She gained hands-on skills and experience in almost every aspect of the automotive sales process: new used cars and trucks sales, F&I, Director of Finance for volume operations and general management. She was hired in 1986 as the first woman to sell cars for Al Packer Lincoln & Mercury in Baltimore, and in 1989, she was promoted to F&I Manager for Ron Bortnick Ford in Upper Marlboro, Maryland. In 1995, Rebecca took a position with the JM&A Group and was promoted to District Manager for the AutoNation division — the #1 retailer in the United States — to hire, train boost profits and implement menu selling. She single-handedly earned a sterling reputation for adding millions of dollars to the bottom line for all her accounts! Rebecca has a well-deserved reputation as a self-starter, high-performer, and spirited entrepreneur and motivator. It’s not a matter of what you think you know… it’s a matter of proving it! As a consultant, trainer and nationally recognized expert in F&I Training and sales procedures, Rebecca has helped hundreds of automotive car dealers throughout the United States and Canada streamline their processes and closing techniques and significantly increase profits. She writes regularly for Wards Business, CBT Automotive Network, Dealer Magazine, Subprime News and as a NCM 20 Group F&I Guest Expert. She facilitates for the NCM Institute, Desking and F&I Integration. Rebecca is the anchor for F&I Today – CBT Automotive Network headquartered in Atlanta, GA. Don’t forget to check out our interactive continuing F&I online education platform Chernek Consulting Virtual Pro the best kept secrets on how to be successful in F&I! Boost your F&I performance! Every dealer must have to help your F&I manager increase sales and profits while reducing liability.

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