Welcome to the pilot of DealerSocket’s new cross-product integration, Auto/Mate & Inventory+. Please use the resources below to engage with us as you explore this updated product functionality. Our engineering teams are actively updating this integration based on your feedback, the latest of which are:
Participation in General Motors’ DVIM program means Inventory+ can now syndicate inventory to any GM-participating website provider or program
DALLAS, October 26, 2020 — DealerSocket, Inc., a leading SaaS provider to the automotive industry, today announced that its Inventory+ inventory management software is now participating in General Motors’ Dealer Vehicle Inventory Management (DVIM) program. That means GM dealerships using DealerSocket’s Inventory+ can now syndicate inventory to GM-participating website providers and programs, including the automaker’s Shop-Click-Drive e-commerce tool.
“Dealers can now utilize more digital retailing solutions to meet customers where and how they want to shop,” said Brad Kokesh, general manager of DealerSocket’s Inventory+ line. “With so much uncertainty in the current market, it’s critical for dealers to have access to more marketing channels while utilizing Inventory+ to identify and source true profit drivers.”
General Motors’ DVIM program improves the consumer experience at GM-branded shopping sites. With DealerSocket’s Inventory+, GM dealers can automate processes and quickly access the latest vehicle costs, options, and suggested sales prices. Using a data-driven approach to inventory management ensures that every lot unit has a chance to sell at a profit, establishing an Ideal Inventory Model for every dealership.
General Motors dealers interested in learning more about DealerSocket’s Inventory+ software can call 888-655-1435.
DealerSocket is a leading provider of software for the automotive industry, offering a suite of seamlessly integrated products to help dealers sell and service vehicles more profitably while improving their customers’ experience. DealerSocket’s suite of products gives dealers of all sizes advanced Customer Relationship Management (CRM), innovative Digital Retail, Marketing and Websites, robust Vehicle Inventory Management, insightful Analytics Reporting, and solutions to streamline dealer operations such as Desking, Credit Reporting, Compliance, an independent-geared Dealer Management System (DMS), as well as Auto/Mate, a leader in DMS. DealerSocket serves more than 9,000 dealerships and 300,000 users. DealerSocket’s software has helped its customers sell more than 100 million vehicles throughout its history. For more information, visit DealerSocket.com, or follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.
949-900-0300, ext. 6112
By Merritt Critcher
Inventory+ is a pricing, merchandising, and syndication machine, but at its core Inventory+ is powered by the Ideal Inventory Model™, an algorithm that focuses on profit per day. It’s also the culmination of multiple tools and products that led it to become as powerful as it is today. Since its inception, it’s been a tool to help dealers manage their inventory from acquisition to disposition with a focus on increasing front-end profit for dealerships.
Inventory+ uses data-driven analytics to deliver quick answers about vehicles in your inventory and your market to help you make informed stocking and pricing decisions. And more importantly, its focus on your inventory — from acquisition to disposition — is designed to drive profits for your dealership.
It was the foundation of two inventory software platforms — AAX and eCarList — that formed Inventory+.
Simplifying Vehicle Listings
The founder of eCarList — who happens to be my brother, Len Critcher — had a dealership that sold vehicles entirely online. Though online sales were taking off, there was a dearth of efficient software tools to create vehicle listings. The task at the time was manual and quite tedious.
But Len was determined to simplify the process. Aided by a software developer, he crafted a listing tool that housed information vital to online vehicle sales, such as photos, descriptions, and prices. The tool would then load that information onto third-party vehicle-shopping sites.
Len’s online car sales took off, and he quickly recognized that his tool could be adapted for use by other dealerships. The software developer moved into some extra office space at the shipping company I part-owned in suburban Dallas, and eCarList, an automotive inventory and marketing software company, was born.
While eCarlist was getting going, I owned a shipping brokerage that handled the shipment needs for over 200 dealers. We realized we could include anoter essential tool for dealers within eCarList – transportation management. So, we added a feature that allowed dealers to notify their shipping company when a vehicle was sold and ready for transport.
The majority of the dealerships I did shipping for were among the first to sign up for eCarList. It got their cars posted online faster, and they were pretty excited that they could just click a button within the software, and we’d send an 18-wheeler to pick up their car.
As the software technology grew, I got out of the shipping business and joined my brother’s company in 2010. Shortly after, we debuted one of eCarList’s most popular enhancements, its TrueTarget™ mobile app that allowed users to appraise, price, and manage inventory on the go.
AAX + eCarList
Both eCarList and AAX came onto the scene in the early 2000s, when online retailing was in its infancy. Many of the features that appealed to dealers then appeal to them now, though those features have been enhanced and refined.
One of AAX’s major strengths was that it integrated with a store’s dealership management system to analyze past sales transactions to determine which vehicle makes, models, and trim levels sell fastest and for the most profit.
Those vehicles made up a dealership’s Ideal Inventory Model and still do.
Dealertrack Technologies integrated the products after acquiring AAX in 2009 and eCarList in 2011.
Using technology to enhance dealership profits isn’t a new notion for DealerSocket. So, in 2015, Inventory+ became part of DealerSocket’s suite of products.
Taking Inventory Management to the Next Level
Since then, and particularly in 2019 and 2020, we’ve released many new features and placed the software on a new platform. Inventory+ has a new look and feel. It’s nimble, intuitive, and easy to use, whether you’re working with inventory at a single rooftop or across hundreds of dealerships.
Users can set up and save workflows for daily tasks and thus reduce the time to complete those tasks from hours to minutes, something that couldn’t be done in previous versions of the tool.
One dealer group describes the user experience as “frictionless.”
Our enhanced pricing tool allows dealers to work faster and smarter. They’re able to apply pricing rules to their inventory in bulk based on actual incentives from automakers while keeping an eye on other factors such as market conditions, and how competitors advertised prices in relation to MSRP.
In fact, one dealer repriced his vehicles by exterior color as part of his Memorial Day promotion, discounting the prices of red, white, and blue vehicles in a matter of minutes.
Using the tool, he searched for and pulled up his red vehicles, hit “select all” and updated their prices simultaneously. He did the same thing with his white vehicles and his blue vehicles, all within five minutes.
Here are just some of the many Inventory+ enhancements made over the past year:
Since the early 2000s, we’ve been creating software to drive profitability at dealerships. In the past two years, we’ve accelerated that innovation. Now, more than ever, dealers need to take a look at their vendors and ask: Are they helping me, or competing against me?
Merritt Critcher serves as director of product management for DealerSocket’s Inventory+ line, a role in which the 16-year industry veteran works closely with dealerships to develop software solutions that enhance their profitability and cash flow.
By Gregory Arroyo
I recall a conversation I had with an industry attorney during the early days of digital retailing. Technology vendors believed the Digital Age had arrived, while dealers were saying, “Not so fast.” My question to my attorney friend was, “What’s the holdup?”
He said the problem is dealers aren’t treating digital retailing as an experience — that customers should be rewarded for taking that path to purchase. He suggested that dealerships with separate facilities for fleet sales should consider directing digital buyers there vs. the showroom.
He then relayed his recent experience purchasing his second vehicle from the same dealership. He called the store, explained that he was a willing buyer who simply wanted to update to a newer model, and negotiated the deal over the phone. Expecting the red-carpet treatment for essentially being a rollover, he felt disappointed when he discovered he’d have to wait like the other customers in front of him.
That conversation came to mind when I came across Urban Science’s “Around the Bend: How COVID-19 Impacts the Next Normal for Dealers,” a report based on an online poll of 1,506 adult consumers. It serves as an update to the firm’s August 2019 report, which served as a reality check for digital retailing.
The 2019 study, which included responses from 2,001 consumers, concluded that car buyers weren’t ready to ditch the dealership experience because they still want to kick the tires and take a test-drive. Respondents also said they still needed someone at the dealership to guide them through the process.
I wrote about why I think that represents an opportunity for digital retailing in an April 2020 blog entry, “Digital Retailing’s True Test.” However, I’d like to share an even greater opportunity revealed in this year’s updated study.
See, while the report did show that a majority of consumers still believe buying a car is too big of an investment not to see (81%) or test-drive (79%), it did show that 67% would be more open to buying online if it was a brand or dealership with which they were already familiar.
Again, my convo with my attorney friend came to mind, but so did a discussion I had with a DealerSocket Strategic Growth Manager. He said the main reason some dealers fail to realize the full potential of data mining is because they don’t have a dedicated process. Well, based on that stat from Urban Science, maybe digital retailing represents a missing link.
Take those data-mining campaigns targeting customers approaching the end of their lease or who qualify for smart payment offers. The emails could contain links to a landing page that explains your offer and a link to a streamlined buying process powered by your digital retail tool.
Back in April, another DealerSocket Strategic Growth Manager told me about a Pennsylvania-based dealer group that was rewarded for having a service-drive sales process when the pandemic forced local officials to limit dealers there to appointment-only sales that concluded with service-drive deliveries.
Before the pandemic, the process delivered 100 units a month behind two dedicated salespeople, a sales manager, and an F&I manager, who actually has a dedicated desk (with enough privacy) in the service area. The reason for that is the group wanted that buying experience to feel different and free of pressure.
The group equips the sales team with its inventory management tool’s mobile app (Inventory+) to feed appraisers with scanned VINs and photos of every car that comes into service. The appraisers then prepare a package that includes a vehicle history report, documentation on the vehicle’s going price in the local market, its fair Kelley Blue Book value, a check voucher for an amount over that value, and the salesperson’s business card.
Signage in the service drive lets customers know they can get a free vehicle evaluation by texting a specific number or talking to their service advisor. All customers get an appraisal, but the hand-raisers represent high-value targets the sales team engages.
However, even customers who don’t bite get the appraisal package. They also get enrolled into a CRM-powered campaign that includes email and a phone call — the latter scheduled for the day after the customer’s service visit to ensure satisfaction and to revisit the offer sheet.
I can see three potential opportunities in that process for digital retailing to have an impact. Maybe it’s a kiosk in the service area loaded with a digital retail tool like DealerSocket’s PrecisePrice; perhaps it’s tablets. Whatever the case, digital retail should be a part of those follow-up efforts, whether it’s a link in an email or guiding customers through the process over the phone and emailing a link to their PrecisePrice deal.
And just maybe that buyer’s journey you create in the service drive serves as the entrance for sales opportunities your data-mining efforts generate.
While 93% of respondents to the Urban Science study expressed some concern with an entirely online purchase process, more than two-thirds said they were comfortable shopping online, signing paperwork digitally, and negotiating price and terms via email, chat, or phone.
Recently, the individual leading the digital drive for one of the largest privately-owned dealer groups in the United States addressed DealerSocket employees over a Zoom call. He talked about COVID-19’s impact, inventory shortages, the group’s efforts to build that clicks-to-bricks experience, and how consumers still need to be educated on what digital retailing is. What caught my attention was his response to whether he believed consumers still want the showroom experience.
“Absolutely … Only a small group of individuals want the Carvana model, and we’re going to be there,” he said. “But most customers want to step foot in a brick-and-mortar shop. If they want to get their payment, we’ll do that and meet them in the showroom.
“So, we believe a critical point in that process is that showroom experience,” he added. “You shouldn’t lose a customer who completed things online because you told them it would take 45 minutes, but it takes us three hours.”
Lynnes Auto Group operates three rooftops — Hyundai, Nissan, and Subaru stores — located on the same New Jersey street. Jose Dios, the group’s used car director, has tried multiple inventory management systems throughout his tenure, including Inventory+ for about 12-plus years.
When Dios took over as used car director, he decided to switch from vAuto to Inventory+. “There were a few obstacles in other systems that weren’t present in Inventory+. There was a lag in data, and the analysis of data wasn’t as in-depth. To complete one task, you’d have to move between multiple screens in the system. With Inventory+, we can make changes on the fly.”
Dios worked with his dedicated strategic growth manager (SGM), Darren Militscher, to get all three of his stores onto Inventory+. “Our implementation has gone extremely well,” he says. “Darren, our strategic growth manager, always picks up the phone. He’s on it. Even after hours or on Sundays.”
Militscher not only helped onboard the group to Inventory+, he helped train general sales managers on best practices. “The managers have taken to Inventory+ extremely well. It’s easy to use and not complicated,” Dios says.
The GSMs at each store use Inventory +'s mobile app to start appraisals at a customer's vehicle on the lot, then book out potential trades using the tool on their desktop. “Inventory+ is extremely well thought out and user friendly,” Dios says. “The managers use Inventory+ when they’re working a deal to start an appraisal and then look at the appraisal details when I’ve completed my valuation.”
Dios, on the other hand, uses Inventory+ throughout the day. “I’m in and out of the system from the beginning of the day until the end of the day. It’s the only platform I use,” he says. “I used to have to jump between Reynolds & Reynolds, CarGurus, vAuto, and more. Now, I only live within Inventory+.”
Aside from using Inventory+ for appraisals, the Lynnes stores use the tool to price their used-car inventory competitively. “Inventory+ definitely has more competitive intel on how my competitors are pricing in my market, giving me a strong edge when it comes to my inventory,” Dios says, referring to the system’s TrueTarget pricing tool.
For example, if one of his stores adds a Nissan Altima, he uses TrueTarget to more strategically price his unit to drive traffic to his store.
Since moving to Inventory+, the Lynnes stores have realized a 30% increase in their used-car volume. “Compared to other inventory providers, you get more tools for what you’re paying for,” Dios says. They mention that Inventory+ is a stronger, quicker inventory tool that gives them an easier way to market online. When asked if they’d recommend DealerSocket to their peers, Dios says, “You’d be stupid not to look at it. It’s better than other inventory providers out there.”
Will Robertson, used-car manager for Pasco, Wash.-based Bill Robertson Nissan, was convinced that pricing a vehicle to sell was the right strategy — that was until his phone rang. It was his DealerSocket Strategic Growth Manager (SGM).
“He called me to suggest raising the price on the car I was going to sell below market ,” he recalls, adding that his SGM’s suggestion resulted in $2,000 incrimental gross profit. It’s just one of the many examples of when Robertson leveraged DealerSocket and its Inventory+ solution to maximize profit despite compressed margins resulting from e-commerce in the auto industry.
“Customer service is where DealerSocket differentiates itself,” he adds. “My Strategic Growth Manager cares about my business and is proactive with his consultations. He forces us to be strategic and use Inventory+ to our advantage.”
Inventory+’s TrueTarget pricing tool is just one of the features Robertson uses to his advantage. “TrueTarget makes it easy to look at the market supply and price to target,” he says, noting that the tool’s ability to work on a desktop and a mobile device is especially helpful.
“I’ll use Inventory+’s mobile app for an appraisal — start to finish,” he says. “I can make all my evaluations and determine ACV through the mobile app. When it comes to repricing and merchandising, I’ll work in Inventory+ desktop.”
Robertson can list a host of scenarios in which Inventory+ has delivered — stories that usually end with a note about the support he receives from his SGM. “I once called him after 10:00 on a Saturday night with a problem,” he says. “He did not have access to his work computer , but he connected me with a team that immediately helped me to solve the problem. I was very appreciative.”
Data from DealerSocket’s Inventory+TM team reveals profitable opportunities for dealers who stayed the course.
Field reports in May confirm what DealerSocket’s April snapshot of appraisal trends seemed to indicate — that a high degree of pent-up consumer demand could create a small window of opportunity for dealers to generate higher gross profits on the sale of used inventory.
Purchase appraisals, or wholesale/auction vehicles evaluated by dealers, fell to their lowest level the week of April 6. Since then, appraisal counts for this category have increased by 114.7%. In May alone, purchase appraisals rose 135%.
The pick-up in activity reveals that retail demand is once again setting the market, with the guidebooks in catch-up mode due to auction closures in March and Apil and dealers on the hunt for pre-owned vehicles core to their dealership and available at the right wholesale price.
of their core inventory,” Black Book stated in a recent report, adding that dealers are hesitant to get stuck with vehicles they don’t traditionally stock in a depreciating market.
Data from DealerSocket’s Inventory+ team shows a 20% week- over-week decline in total appraisals the week of March 16, when most stay-at-home orders took effect. Trade appraisals, or appraisals that occur on a customer’s trade-in, were down 26% during the same period, while “Purchase Appraisals” on wholesale and auction units plunged by 35%, according to the data.
Overall, appraisals were down 34.4% from the first week of March to the first week of April. However, activity has trended up since.
Inventory+ users in the Northeast, where some markets remain limited to appointment-only sales as of early June, are reporting either record-setting months for April and May or year-over-year increases in terms of pre-owned sales counts and gross profits. And that momentum seems to be carrying over into June.
Trade appraisal counts appear to confirm strong consumer demand, with the number of trade appraisals (evaluation of consumer trade-ins at the dealership) increasing 27.8% in May after bottoming out in early April due to the impact of shelter-in-place orders. Since April 6, trade appraisals have risen 97.9%.
Consumer appraisal counts offer an even brighter outlook, as consumers continued to initiate vehicle evaluations through online lead forms during the height of shelter-in-place orders.
The apparent retail demand is now rewarding dealers who resisted the urge to offload aging units, as inventory shortages are allowing them to get higher asking prices with little to no negotiation. Some dealers, according to field reports, are even pricing units they’ve had since March like it was Day 1 on the lot.
The going theory is consumers camped out on vehicles of interest through the COVID-19 period between March and April, hoping for a price cut that never materialized.
As the old saying goes, make hay while the sun shines, and the sun is still shining in terms of a dealer’s opportunity to generate higher front-end gross profit. However, that window of opportunity won’t stay open for long, with wholesale value normalization expected in the next three to four weeks. The guidebooks, by some estimates, are about a month to a month and a half behind.
For now, dealers need to hit the reset button on their aging strategies and pump up retail prices, especially on three-, four-, and five-year-old vehicles. The exception is late-model units, which should be priced and advertised around factory new-vehicle incentives. Lease returns and the expected flood of rental units should refuel inventory levels, but not until the wholesale prices for those market-returning units fall to a more reasonable level.