A new study reveals a potential starting point for dealers who are just now dipping their toes in the digital waters.

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 a 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.

"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."

Jose Dios, Used Car Director

Lynnes Auto Group

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.”

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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. 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.

Will Robertson, Used Car Manager

Bill Robertson Nissan

“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.”

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Learn more about DealerSocket's products and schedule a demo with a representative.

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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.

May Appraisal Trends

Retail Demand Resets Market

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.

Window of Opportunity

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.

Conclusion

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.

It happens at every dealership. You’ve invested time and money reconditioning a vehicle that seemed perfect for your lot. Thirty days becomes 45, 45 days becomes 60, and, finally, it becomes clear this car has to go.

Do you sell the vehicle at auction and incur transportation costs, auction fees, and possibly wholesale losses? What if your frontline-ready car is purchased by a competitor and sold at a profit?

If your store is part of a dealership group, the best and most profitable solution is to give that aged or unwanted unit another run at a sister store’s lot. By trading within your dealership group — a process known as group trade — you’re able to reduce wholesale loss, save on auction fees, keep core inventory within your group, and drive additional overall group revenue. In this article, we’ll outline best practices for running group trade for operations of all sizes.

Select a Moderator

There are multiple ways to set up group trade. We recommend a model that organizes all your group’s used-car managers and general managers weekly. Having this regular cadence keeps your trade desks at one to two hours. We suggest scheduling them on Mondays at 9 a.m. or 10 a.m., so trading ends before the dealerships get busy.

We recommend you assign a nonbiased individual, such as the group’s used-car director, to manage and moderate the bidding. This person will also need the authority to make decisions, especially when it comes to settling disputes. Think of this individual as your group trade project manager, because you need someone to keep all your managers and GMs on track.

Trade Desk Preparation

Each week, managers must compile a list of vehicles they plan to make available during the trade desk. Every group has its standards, but we recommend sending any unit that’s been on the lot for 45 days or longer.

Vehicles listed should be reconditioned and priced correctly before the trade desk. Cosmetic and mechanical problems are often the reason frontline-ready vehicles go to auction. Requiring that vehicles listed for trade are in good condition also helps instill trust. We’ve seen it happen before: A vehicle traded to a sister store requires reconditioning that wasn’t disclosed. The point here is you need to set ground rules to which all participants are held accountable.

As for pricing, vehicles should be priced to current market conditions. That means vehicles that haven’t received a recent price update shouldn’t be offered for trade.

Also make sure vehicles listed for trade have clear, detailed interior and exterior photos, as well as full book-out information. Remember, transparency is key. Like customers, your fellow manager at a sister store won’t purchase a car without photos, as vehicle images often help identify problems or explain why a vehicle didn’t sell.

Knowing that aged vehicles will be offered to sister stores encourages used-car managers to be more vigilant during trade walks, and when monitoring and adjusting retail prices to market fluctuations, and making sure vehicles have been booked out accurately.

Make sure your moderator diligently manages the trade desk timeline. By Saturday night, all vehicle lists should be submitted to the moderator. By Sunday, have your moderator compile all vehicles available in trade desk. Managers can look at the list Sunday and prepare to bid by Monday’s call.

Key Strategies

Used-car folks love to bargain. That’s why they’re in the business. Help managers understand they will get great vehicles if they give great vehicles — i.e., “You give me a break on this car, and I’ll give you a break on that car.” That’s a win-win for the group. Encourage managers to collaborate and cut deals, but make sure every deal goes through the group trade desk.

The following are other trade desk strategies you can implement:

  • To keep all managers engaged until the sale ends, sell vehicles based on age, not by store. That disburses each dealership’s vehicles throughout the sale, making it easier to keep managers engaged as they wait to bid on or sell a vehicle.
  • Make faster decisions about a vehicle’s fate; they don’t get better with age.
  • Used-car managers should be prepared to talk up their vehicles — via conference call — when they are featured.
  • The bidding should be done in increments of $250 and limited to one minute per vehicle.
  • Keep things moving and discourage managers from getting attached to off-brand vehicles. That’s especially important if the vehicle is valued at $10,000 or more, or a sister store of the same franchise brand can sell it as a certified or noncertified pre-owned vehicle.
  • A vehicle should only be traded once within the group. A vehicle that sits 60 days at one dealership and another 60 days at a sister store needs to go.
  • Urge managers to be proactive and search for group trade desk opportunities. For example, take notice whenever a sister store appraises a trade. DealerSocket’s Inventory+ software has a feature called Group Trade, which will notify you by email or text whenever a store within the group takes in a trade. If that vehicle fits your core inventory profile, monitor it. If it hits the 45-day mark, let the store’s used-car manager know you’d like to have it. Conversely, if you have a car that isn’t right for your store, contact a sister store’s used-car manager to see if he or she is interested.
  • Group Trade enables dealerships to run weekly reports that show data such as the trade desk’s closing ratio, pending appraisals, preliminary photos taken, book outs, and percentage of core vehicles in inventory. It can also track the age of units in inventory.

Above the obvious benefits, group trade promotes camaraderie among colleagues who work for the same company but may not know one another. Our team has seen group trade foster brainstorming, collaboration, and increased morale, and decreased turnover.

This session has ended, please view the recording below. Looking for the Inventory Checklist we shared? Click here.

 

Session Description:

As local governments make decisions, businesses are starting to re-open and car buying will begin to resume. Is your dealership ready for the changes ahead? We’ve put together a BIG checklist for re-opening your dealership, and we’ll cover everything from getting your sales reps back into the swing to pricing strategies.

Whether it feels like you’re starting from scratch or you just need a few extra tips to get things moving, this is the webinar for you! Register now and hear DealerSocket’s industry experts Darren Militscher. Judy Greeby, and Nick Oakley lay out the inventory & CRM re-opening checklist you need to get ready.

About the Presenters:

Darren Militscher, a Senior Dealer Results Manager at DealerSocket, has over 14 years of deep automotive experience and started his career with Dealertrack working on what would later be Inventory+ by DealerSocket. Darren is an indispensable part of his dealers’ workflow, providing valuable consultative advice and insight into their business strategies.

Judy Greeby, a Strategic Growth Manager at DealerSocket, has 25+ years of experience in automotive and has played a vital role in helping our customers accelerate their operations through her hands-on consulting.

Nick Oakley is also a key member of DealerSocket’s Strategic Growth Management team, delivering high-value business & product insights to our customers. With over 7 years of automotive experience, Nick is able to help his dealers drive results with their CRM and ensure business efficiency.

DealerSocket’s new report provides a snapshot of inventory and web traffic trends

DALLAS, May 12, 2020 — DealerSocket, Inc., a leading SaaS provider to the automotive industry, today released new insights based on aggregated Inventory+ data that shows positive signs for the automotive market. Contained in the company’s new “DealerSocket COVID-19 Impact Report,” the aggregated data set of insights will be updated on a bimonthly basis. The first edition reveals a 34.3% increase in consumer trade appraisals between the weeks of April 6 and April 20 this year.

The report’s first edition also provides a deeper dive into inventory management trends during the COVID-19 period between the weeks of March 2 and April 20. Aside from insights from DealerSocket’s Inventory+ team, the report includes online shopping trends from DealerFire (DealerSocket’s digital and websites business), and regional lists outlining the top 10 pre-owned vehicles based on sales count, average turn, front-end gross, and average sales price.

“Dealers are optimistic by nature, and the data outlines trends pointing to potential recovery signs for the industry from the COVID-19 pandemic, with activity spiking since the U.S. Department of Homeland Security deemed auto sales essential on April 17,” said Brad Kokesh, general manager of DealerSocket’s Inventory+ business unit. “The report also outlines a pick-up in activity among consumers. What’s interesting is consumers continued to initiate appraisals through online lead forms throughout the month of March, and consumer trade appraisals have jumped more than 30% since the first full week of April.“

Here are key findings from the DealerSocket COVID-19 Impact Report:

To access the DealerSocket COVID-19 Impact Report, click here.