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.”

We continue to think about all of you, our customers and partners, during this difficult time. This pandemic has caused deep challenges across our industry and for all of us, and I hope you know that DealerSocket continues to be here for our dealers. Our goal has been to strike the right balance between being prepared for our dealers and the market when our industry recovers and offering discounts to help our dealers as much as possible during this difficult time. 

We will get through this, and we will get through this together. We are committed to fighting through this with you. We are beginning to see the first signs of positive trends as we climb out of the depths of the COVID-19 pandemic, and this has us all hopeful for the future.

In April, we heavily discounted our software for our dealers. In addition to our discounts in April, we have decided to offer the following DealerSocket billing reductions for May for all of our dealers:

We have already sent out our May invoices, so next week you will receive a credit memo for the above discounts. With that said, similar to our discount package last month, there are some basic qualifying terms listed below.

In addition to these discounts in April and May, DealerSocket continues to offer our customers several promotions and free months of certain software products to help you navigate this crisis. Our offers include promotions for:

Since we are adding promotions and various resources for dealers often, please view DealerSocket’s latest information by clicking here, and, as always, please feel free to reach out to your Customer Success Manager with any questions or if we can help in any way:

If you are not yet an Auto/Mate DMS customer, I hope you know that we can reduce your DMS bill significantly during these challenging times as well as into the future by switching to Auto/Mate DMS. We have several bundled packages that include our Auto/Mate DMS product combined with other DealerSocket products to support you.

Thank you for partnering with DealerSocket. I hope you know how much we value and appreciate your loyalty, partnership, and your business.

I wish you, your families, and your team members health in these unprecedented times.

Sejal Pietrzak
CEO and President
DealerSocket
sejal@dealersocket.com

 

Details regarding our COVID-19 relief package:

We’re excited to announce that Steve Zadoorian and Dave Druzynski have both taken on new, expanded roles at DealerSocket! In their new positions, Steve and Dave will ensure that DealerSocket and Auto/Mate customers and employees continue to benefit from an emphasis on customer support and company culture.

Steve Zadoorian

Steve Zadoorian has been named Senior VP Operations and Customer Care at DealerSocket. In his new role, Steve will lead the Installations and Customer Support teams for both DealerSocket and Auto/Mate. Under Steve’s leadership, Auto/Mate achieved a customer retention rate above 95 percent and has received multiple consecutive DrivingSales Dealer Satisfaction awards. Steve’s commitment to customer satisfaction has also helped to build Auto/Mate’s Net Promoter Score (NPS) to +59, a score that’s nearly double the software industry average of +31.

“My first goal is to integrate the support service teams so we have a common process; and also make sure we have a well-integrated and cohesive implementation process for new clients,” said Steve. “I look forward to bringing our teams and best practices together and ensuring that our customers remain highly satisfied.

Dave Druzynski has been named Vice President, People and Culture at DealerSocket.

Dave Druzynski

In his new role, Dave will oversee the development of company culture and employee satisfaction. Under Dave’s leadership, Auto/Mate has received ten consecutive “Best Place to Work” awards by the Albany Business Review, and nine consecutive “Top Workplaces” awards by The Times Union.

“Employee happiness has always been a high priority at Auto/Mate and I am thrilled to work with the DealerSocket team who shares that same belief. Rather than just have one company’s culture consume the other, we plan to identify the best aspects of both cultures and merge them together as one team,” said Dave.

Dave and Steve will continue to operate from DealerSocket’s Albany, NY office.

With threat actors working overtime, DealerSocket’s head of information security offers three tips to keep your dealership’s and your customers’ data protected.

By Gregory Arroyo

Greg Tatum has a warning for dealerships everywhere: Cyber threat actors are working overtime. Noting a definite uptick in suspicious activity since COVID-19 hit Europe in late February, he adds:

“Threat actors are actively searching for new targets through a number of different mediums. Things like social media platforms are a very popular target for information gathering that can be used in an attack.”

Tatum serves as DealerSocket’s head of information security. He joined DealerSocket nearly four years ago from a security services firm that works with companies in much more sensitive environments than automotive. I’m talking about healthcare and government contractors, sectors that see billions of attacks each year. So, yeah, we have the right guy on the job.

“DealerSocket spends a considerable amount of effort protecting our customers’ data,” he notes. “It’s part of what we do just to make sure our customers’ customers’ data is protected.”

Tatum isn’t the only one sounding the alarm. The FBI issued its own warning on March 20, noting that scammers are leveraging the COVID-19 pandemic to steal money, personal information, or both.

 

 

Just last week, the National Automobile Dealers Association reported that attackers are now putting up COVID-19-related websites that prompt visitors to download an application to receive COVID-19 updates. But you don’t need to download the app, as the site installs a malicious binary file as you contemplate whether you should.

The attack method uses AZORult, software that originated in Russia approximately four years ago to steal data and infect the breached computer with malware.

Tatum also alerted me to a new phishing campaign that pretends to be from a local hospital notifying recipients that they have been exposed to the Coronavirus and they need to be tested.

But it’s not just phishing and ransomware attacks. Business email compromise, or BEC, is also on the rise. That’s when a cyberthief breaks into a legitimate corporate email account and impersonates an employee to get the business, its partners, or other employees to send money or sensitive data to the attacker.

“In this climate we live in today, this is part of business,” Tatum says. “This is part of what we have to deal with as consumers of technology.”

Tatum, by the way, is available to help. He advises DealerSocket customers to contact their Customer Success Managers to get connected. In the meantime, he offers the following four tips to safeguard your organization and your customers’ data:

1. Stay Committed to General Security Awareness

The following is general security etiquette your teams should employ:

2. Separate Work and Personal Data

Use company-issued computers and mobile devices for work purposes only. If you don’t have a company-issued device, be sure to check your company’s policies about using personal devices to access your organization’s data or networks.

Additionally, consider creating separate user accounts. Never use your work email for personal reasons or vice-versa. This segregation helps the company maintain the confidentiality of the data it collects and helps you maintain your privacy.

3. Secure Your Home Network

Update your router’s username and password immediately and use a strong, unique password. And never use the same password for your network and your router. Note that most routers ship with default login credentials that are public knowledge.

4. Don’t Forget About Physical Security

The comfort of your own home is no reason to forget about physical security. Simple acts like keeping doors locked and not leaving mobile devices unattended in a vehicle are non-technical ways to improve security.

Gregory Arroyo is the former editor of “F&I and Showroom” and “Auto Dealer Today” magazines. He now serves as senior manager of strategic content for DealerSocket. Email him at garroyo@dealersocket.com.

The business has navigated unprecedented hardships before, and DealerSocket’s First Pencil blog believes there’s no reason it won’t do it again.

By Gregory Arroyo

Remember the period between late 2007 and 2009, when the housing crash that caused the credit crisis led to the Great Recession? The market was tough to read, and the used-car guides were all over the map.

Dealers that bulked up on big trucks and SUVs were stuck with a lot full of them, as gas prices reached $4 a gallon and finance sources tightened up. Any car buyer with below-prime credit couldn’t get approved, as banks weren’t sure where car buyers — particularly those with investment properties — would land and finance companies were dead in the water.

The good news right now is we’re not experiencing any of those market dynamics. But news surrounding COVID-19 (a.k.a. the Coronavirus) has certainly heated up in recent days.

Hearing about Tom Hanks was disconcerting. So was hearing about the National Basketball Association’s decision to suspend the season, after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert became the first major professional athlete to test positive for the virus. Now his teammate, star Donovan Mitchell, has tested positive.

As of March 10, there have been at least 116,000 coronavirus cases worldwide. About 64,000 people have recovered, and 4,000 have died. Here in the United States, multiple states are under a state of emergency.

With all that said, the one thing I love about this business is how opposed it is to doom-and-gloom talk. In fact, just yesterday, the founder of a car dealer Facebook group I belong to urged all admins not to allow panic to take over the group.

“I don’t want negative talk about this affecting us,” he wrote.

It made me think of this great line from the first Avengers movie: “Until such time as the world ends, we will act as though it intends to spin on.”

Hey, consumers who need a new car (or used) today will still need it tomorrow. Still, it’s not business as usual, so preparation is vital.

So, if you’ve loaded up with inventory the past couple of months to take advantage of tax season, monitoring aging will be key. And if you’re part of a group that engages in group trading, it’s time to dig into your inventory management systems to ensure vehicles are on the right lots. It’s not time to panic, but you should have exit plans in place.

I recall a story told to me back in 2009. A dealer in the Northeast took on a bulk of pickups in trades just before things got bad. Having dumped $5,000 to $7,000 into the vehicles, he refused to take a loss at auction when things did — even though he was losing money each day those vehicles sat on his lot. His patience was rewarded, however, as he ended up grossing $2,000 to $5,000 by waiting out the storm for a couple of months. Americans do love their trucks and SUVs.

You also need to fire up that CRM. Hey, you know you have customers reaching the end of their finance, lease, or warranty term. Vehicles also need to be serviced. Maybe it’s an excellent time to offer free service pickup and return.

And if you’re a dealer that dipped your toe in the digital retail waters — or maybe offer test-drive deliveries — today’s uncertainty represents an opportunity to really test those strategies.

So, start promoting those customer conveniences, and make sure your digital retail button stands out. In other words, remove any conflicting calls to action on your vehicle details and dedicated landing pages. Banner promotions on your search results pages and VDPs are a must.

Now, when it comes to your employees, I suggest not sticking your head in the sand. Management teams need to get educated on this virus, and communication will be critical. Care also needs to be taken when it comes to the cleanliness of your showroom, employee offices, and common areas.

With all that said, here’s what I do know in all this uncertainty: Every time this business faces a severe hardship, it always seems to come out the other side a better industry. I’m sure that will be the case once again.

Gregory Arroyo is the former editor of “F&I and Showroom” and “Auto Dealer Today” magazines. He now serves as senior manager of strategic content for DealerSocket. Email him at garroyo@dealersocket.com.

As the competition goes from trading stocks to precious metals to undo the race to the bottom it created, Inventory+ reminds all that it has always been about profit time.

By Gregory Arroyo

I was fooled, at least during my days covering the F&I trade for an industry publication. And I was reminded of that on Jan. 27. That’s when Automotive News published an article on Dale Pollak’s “new truth of used-car profitability.”

My excuse is I covered F&I, which meant I was limited to “drive-by” reporting when it came to the inventory-management space. What I needed was a connection, and, well, the credit crisis that preceded the Great Recession of 2009 and its impact on inventory-management strategies provided just that. That led to this December 2009 article: Stock Up/Stock Down.

The piece quotes the two leading voices in the inventory space at the time: Pollak and the team at Inventory+. Both were leading the charge in turning inventory-management solutions into pricing tools. Inventory+, according to my sources, was the choice of many of the industry’s big dealer groups, while Pollak was the newcomer. And, yes, he was making a lot of noise at the time.

I remember the blog he wrote in May 2008 (The Core is Rotten), where he bashed Inventory+ and the Ideal Inventory Model that serves as its foundation. So you can imagine my reaction when I saw the video Dale posted in late 2018, the one in which he semi-admits that maybe he was wrong. And you can imagine my reaction when he doubled-downed in that recent Automotive News article, blaming dealers for not paying to get his fix for a problem his software created.

What troubles me is my brethren on the media side have decided to let Mr. Pollak off the hook, allowing him to pin margin compression on some “dramatic turn” in the spring of 2016.

Interestingly, Dale rolled out Stockwave in March 2016, but, as you guessed it, his press release and Automotive News failed to mention that. Instead, Dale uses both platforms to tell dealers to adopt his new software “if they want to be profitable.”

Well, Dale, I’m not sure your customers ever fully embraced your now-debunked theory. “I’d never use [vAuto] the way Dale Pollak … recommends you use it,” wrote Jim Ziegler in a July 2015 column in F&I and Showroom magazine. “I suggest using it as a buying and selling guide, but not a pricing guide. I just believe every used car should have a chance to make a decent profit.”

Now, Pollak has gone from managing inventory like trading stocks to managing it like trading precious metals. And according to his team’s analysis, dealers wrongly managed their best investments, their platinum cars, like their worst investments, and vice-versa. So, the trick is to hold onto those profit drivers and rid your lots of those bronze cars.

In other words, find your core inventory.

So, how will you determine your bronze and platinum vehicles? Well, Dale and his team have gone and developed a new secret algorithm that weighs three main factors — cost of goods being one of them. I singled out that factor because Dale never mentioned cost of goods before, but the Inventory+ rep I spoke to for my 2009 article did: “Simply turning vehicles and selling them quickly is not the answer, because it’s a balance between cost of goods, profitability, and how quickly you can sell it.”

He then added this: “The internet is an incredibly powerful and wonderful thing, but it can also be a wasteland of information.”

See, like Pollak’s software, Inventory+ does show users how competitively priced the market is on a specific vehicle based on how other dealers are advertising that vehicle or a similar vehicle online. But we take it a step further by displaying a market’s actual transactional data. That means the dealer doesn’t have to wonder if the price advertised online is outdated because the vehicle was sent to auction.

What really separates Inventory+ is our algorithm (yes, we have one, too) analyzes a dealer’s transactional history — about 90 days’ worth — to determine the dealership’s core inventory, or vehicles that deliver above-average grosses in below-average turn times.

So, we base our recommendations on your dealership’s unique DNA. The reason that’s important is relying on market data alone — like Pollak’s solution does — means other dealers in the same region are getting the same recommendations, which increases wholesale costs for the same vehicle (I’m sure Cox loves that). That leads to those profit-squeezing, race-to-the-bottom pricing wars. Sound familiar?

And by analyzing your historical transactional data, Inventory+ tells you what your customers are buying — not what your competitors’ customers are buying 25 miles down the road. And if you do well on a particular vehicle, there’s no reason to get down in the gutter with every other dealership engaged in a pricing war. You simply need to differentiate your profit driver with the photos you take and the description you write.

See, Dale, it’s always been “profit time” at DealerSocket.

An interesting observation causes a general manager for a Toyota store to wonder if the industry has reached a tipping point in today’s Digital Age.

A general manager (GM) for a Toyota store in Arkansas made a stunning observation: A “super-loyal” customer who has purchased five cars from the same salesperson, who he loves and “won’t buy from anyone else,” came in as an internet lead. Yup, instead of calling his beloved Jackie to say he’s coming in to look at a new Toyota Tacoma, Mr. Super-Loyal visited the dealership’s website, found the vehicle he wanted, and submitted a lead form. The horror, right? Well, it wasn’t the first time the GM observed such a thing. “He was an internet sale, so the website got credit for that sale,” the GM told me. “It wasn’t a conquest sale. We didn’t go out and get us a new customer, but, technically, on paper, it’s an internet sale.” Remember when market studies told us car buyers were shopping less than two dealerships before pulling the trigger. Well, according to a poll of 2,001 consumers conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of Urban Science, consumers are visiting, on average, 2.5 dealerships. Wait, it gets better. Generation Z and young millennials — you know, the ones who were supposed to skip the showroom experience altogether — are visiting, on average, 3.5 dealerships. Gen X visits 2.3 dealerships, while older millennials and Boomers visit, on average, two. Randy Berlin, global director of dealer consulting for Urban Science, says the reason visits are higher among the younger demographics is “they have no brand identity or loyalty.” “The young people, they’re just not brand loyal at all, except for maybe Apple,” he adds. And get this: Berlin says the average customer is submitting an average of three leads. The reason, he says, is customers are cross-checking prices. See, price (84%) is the most significant influencer of a buying decision — even above a “low-pressure sales approach (72%).” The GM’s story and all this new data makes me wonder why data mining isn’t getting more hype, especially when we’re dealing with a less loyal customer who is focused on price and is cross-checking two to 3.5 dealerships. All of this reminds me of something I heard from one of our Strategic Growth Managers for our RevenueRadar tool. His name is Winston Harrell, a 33-year industry veteran and a serious data-mining pro. To demonstrate the power of the tool to new clients, he asks them to load the solution with the conditions that point to a high-target prospect or are important to the dealership. Then he has them run a report to see how many people the dealership sold a car to in the last month fit those parameters. “It’s pure amazement,” he says. “Unfortunately, no one reached out to those customers, so they showed up as a fresh up or an internet lead.” And you know your third-party lead providers are more than happy to take credit for those sales. Harrell says the reason most dealers lose faith in data mining is they don’t have a defined process that’s written down, implemented, and managed by a dedicated person. Think BDC manager. DealerSocket commissioned its own study. Conducted by Strategy Analytics, nearly 50% of the 500 dealers polled listed “Identifying the best places to invest marketing spend” as their No. 1 pain point. Again, I’m not sure why data mining isn’t getting more hype when it’s clear the answer is buried in the data.

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