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Best Practices for Approaching Online Retailing

Article Highlights:

  • Tips for approaching customers to purchase a vehicle.
  • How to handle the trade process and signing ceremony.

In this episode of Reynolds’ video podcast, Connected, Jon Strawsburg, vice president of product planning, discusses the importance of online retailing with customers forced to stay home.

Greg Uland: Hello, I’m Greg Uland, marketing director at Reynolds and Reynolds, and this is Connected, the podcast with best practices and ideas to help navigate what’s happening in the automotive retail industry and the world today. As a COVID-19 virus continues to change our world and how we live and work daily, this podcast discusses ways to continue operating in this unprecedented social environment. On today’s episode, we have with us Jon Strawsburg, vice president of product planning at Reynolds and Reynolds. Jon, thanks so much for joining.

Jon Strawsburg: Greg, it’s my pleasure. It’s good to see you, it’s been about a month.

GU: I know, it’s good to see you as well. Jon, I’m excited to have you on today. I want to talk with you about digital retail or online retailing. Everybody is having to figure it out in one way or another. But I’m hoping you can share with us some key things to keep in mind as dealers work through this to keep selling remotely, both effectively and profitably.

JS: This is certainly a topic that we’ve worked on for years. This is nothing particularly new, but the urgency and the focus around it given the COVID-19 situation has really accelerated the need to talk about it. I would tell you that the main thing I think that sets everything up is the relationship that the dealer has with the customer. That relationship is bolstered by constant and meaningful kinds of communication. So the dealer’s continuing to stay in contact with their customers as they normally would is very important. It shouldn’t appear that something different is going on or needs to change between the dealership and the customer. From a standpoint of the consumer being interested in buying a vehicle, that adds some real opportunities for the dealer in this environment, because obviously the consumer has the ability to go to a lot of different websites, to look at a lot of different information. The dealer needs to provide something that is pertinent to that specific customer. So helping the customer go through the decision making process of what kind of vehicles they’re interested in, what kind of a deal they’re looking for, what kind of a structure of the deal they’re looking for, is absolutely critical. And giving them that through the dealers website is key.

Another thing that is pertinent, and what dealers have told us, is that the information to a consumer needs to be specific to the consumer and also needs to be consistent and in line with the way that the dealership does business. So the ability for the dealer to present the consumer with an actual bona fide deal, down to the penny, that includes all of the items, all of the taxes, and all the relevant rates or residuals and things that make a deal specific to a customer is important. Especially if the deal is actually going to be something that is sold, otherwise it is a lead. And while there’s nothing wrong with leads, getting to an actual deal closure is important. You can’t do that without the information that you normally use every day to put together a deal. So we pull the information to actually use the dealer management system as the basis for information that is used to create a deal. So when you get to the end of that process, you have a real deal. I think that’s a significant difference and something that’s important.

GU: And then it comes down to your first point of communicating with the customer. So however you do that, whether it’s email or chat or a phone call or even a video call, once you’re doing the same things that you’re doing in-store, then communicating it to the customers is really the basic and important part.

JS: Yep. Stay in contact with them, don’t rely on them contacting you to tell you they want to do something. Stay in contact with them.

GU: For sure. Jon, hat about the trade? That’s something that obviously creates its own issues when the person is in the store and we’re in our normal operating environment two months ago. What’s it like now?

JS: Well, obviously, there are some complexities to it now. I mean, even if you just think in terms of the need to keep things sanitary. If I’m going out and I’m going to look at somebody’s trade or they’re going to bring it to me to look at, things like disinfection have to be important. What I hear our dealers doing include two or three different ways. One of the ways, of course, is that they will send a representative out to the consumer’s home or place of business, or wherever they happen to be with the vehicle, to inspect the vehicle and get a good feel for its condition, as well as just the information about the model and make and mileage, and those kinds of things.

Another way to do that is for obviously the customer to bring it to the store. And some of the dealers are setting up special drop off areas where the potential trade-in can be dropped off for the dealership personnel to evaluate, and the consumers are given an opportunity to be somewhere where they’re socially distant from other people so they can be comfortable while that process goes on.

Today, what we see is a lot more of the appraisal being done truly remotely and virtually. The consumer provides pictures of the vehicle, relevant data about the vehicle, and that can be passed along to different types of appraisal guides to get a valuation the dealership can be fairly comfortable with. It is always going to be dependent on the final product that’s brought in to the dealer when it gets there. But I think the dealers are getting a lot more adept at getting pretty close to the correct trade-in valuation of a vehicle by doing it online today.

GU: Jon, another piece that creates quite a hurdle in today’s environment is the signing ceremony – actually getting contracts signed, getting the documents signed. How are dealers handling that right now?

JS: Well, in a variety of ways. One of the ways we see is just simply over the phone or using Skype or FaceTime or something, the dealers put a deal together. They may usually use the assets they have in the dealership like a docuPAD or their F&I system to structure that deal with the customer. Then they prepare the documentation and send that documentation to the customer. Now, that documentation could go by way of an email with PDFs sent to them. There are certain ways to do things electronically that allow the customer to execute the documents. You could always send the documents with the new vehicle the consumer is buying so they can execute them before they actually get delivery of the vehicle. And we like that method because obviously the vehicle shows up at the customer’s home. They’re ready to buy it. So those are really the primary ways people are dealing with it.

There are some cases where dealers have setup signing rooms, if you will, that are kept so that the consumer is there by themselves, perhaps with their significant other in order to execute the documents at the dealership and then be able to go and get them in the vehicle. Obviously, the procedures for social distancing and disinfecting things and all that have to be followed. But those are the four, I’d say primary methods that we’ve seen dealers use. So bottom line is they’re not stopping selling vehicles when they have the opportunity.

GU: Great. Very good to hear. Jon, I definitely appreciate you taking some time to talk and hop on here today. While we have the audience, and before we get out of here, is there anything else that you’d like to share or anything you want to say?

JS: Well, once again, our dealer customers and dealers in the United States certainly are showing that resiliency that they always have when they’re faced with these kinds of hurdles. I’ve been doing this a long time and I’ve seen a number of recessions and things that have gone on that have been out of all of our control. But dealerships, as entrepreneurs and as bright business people, always work through creative ways to make business happen and to get consumers what they need. And so the industry once again will persevere and do well because we’ve got that kind of personality involved at the top of the dealership organizations to make these things work and doable.

GU: Great. Well, Jon, thank you again. I really do appreciate you coming on today.

JS: It’s my pleasure, Greg. Stay safe.

GU: This has been Connected. Stay safe and we’ll see you on the next episode.

Continue to tune in often to see new episodes on best practices and tips for navigating the automotive industry during this unprecedented time.

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