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Dealers, invest in solutions you know customers want

Dealers who neglect technology and digital retail tools could face repercussions in the years to come. As younger buyers age into the vehicle market, they will bring digital expectations with them.

Dealers agree that customers want to work more of their deals online and spend less time in the F&I office, but according to a survey by Equifax, retailers aren’t delivering.

According to an online survey of 135 dealers nationwide, 87 percent of respondents said their customers would rather complete a deal online, but only 27 percent of retailers said they offer that option.

Meanwhile, many dealers surveyed say the F&I process still lasts longer than the average Hollywood movie. Forty-five percent of dealers said the F&I process takes between one and a half and two hours, and 31 percent said a deal takes more than two hours to complete.

Jenn Reid, vice president of automotive marketing and strategy at Equifax Automotive Services, says only a minority of dealers offer a fully digital buying process, but not from a lack of trying.

Many dealers are investing in digital retailing, Reid said, but the systems’ complexity makes progress difficult. To create a fully digital retail process, dealers have to connect many disparate software systems, such as the dealership management system, dealership and automaker websites and other third-party websites. Customers have little to no visibility into what’s happening behind the scenes other than when there’s a problem, or when the customer has to repeat steps that prolong the process.

But some dealers could be doing a lot more. Dealers reporting longer F&I office visits could invest in more technology to speed the in-store process.

For instance, only slightly more than half of the dealers surveyed said they offer vehicle price quotes to customers before they arrive at the dealership.

Dealers shouldn’t focus so much on keeping visits under a certain time, but on ensuring customers are satisfied with the F&I options they agreed to and the experience as a whole, Reid said.

“There probably is no exact time we should be aiming for, since many F&I office visits will vary depending on the type of vehicle being purchased and the amount of questions each customer will have and the depth of information they need,” Reid said. “While digital will ultimately oftentimes speed this process, each customer’s actual transaction time will also vary depending on how long it takes them to be comfortable with the purchase.”

Dealers lose when a customer chooses a different dealership because of a superior online experience. But it’s clear that most know what their customers want from a car-shopping experience — it’s time to invest in the solutions to provide it.

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