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Car retail's digital transformation starts in the dealership, opinion

David Boyce, chief executive officer at Mad Devs

Digital transformation has made headlines in the automotive industry since the start of the pandemic as retailers accelerated plans to give buyers the choice of how, where and when to buy their new or used car.

The shift to omnichannel retail has been accompanied by a wave of consolidation in the industry to give the customer a seamless experience.

However, there is an argument that the salespeople who sit at the coal face in dealerships are forgotten in this push for a digital future.

A visit to any dealership will highlight the multitude of systems the average salesperson has to navigate to sell a car.

Getting it wrong can cost them their job in terms of compliance or the sale if the customer feels alienated in the process.

At one point, the salesperson had to use up to 19 different systems to sell a car. From lead response and management to dealer management systems, the user has to navigate through multiple logins, user interfaces and data requirements.

Even today, after a wave of consolidation, the average dealership will use over 10 systems a day.

Any digital change must start in the dealership. In making life easier for salespeople, the customer will feel the benefit, and the difference will be seen on the bottom line.

There are wider advantages for dealers. A single platform that covers every part of the sales process will improve compliance because there is no need for rekeying, and it will boost productivity through streamlining administration.

A single platform also improves data security. When personal information is stored in multiple areas, it inevitably creates more weak points.

While sales leaders will have a single point of truth for sales data and can easily access information in real-time to understand team performance and the sales pipeline.

The market is becoming more complex. Consumers have access to the same information that car retailers enjoy and can purchase the vehicle from a multitude of channels. It’s a reality that is only set to become more complicated over the next five years.

To succeed in a fast-evolving and competitive market, dealers must be agile and empowered with the best data.

 A simplified approach to dealer technology will give salespeople more time to focus on the customer and give them exemplary service. And it is providing great service where dealers can win in a market with a growing number of purely online retailers.

Digital transformation starts and ends with how you think about and interact with customers. With technology that enables rather than throws up barriers, dealers will have the opportunity to rethink they do business and how they engage customers.

In a recent study by management consultants McKinsey, fewer than 50% of those surveyed believed that dealer salespeople gave them all the information they need, while 70% view the presence of a physical car as the main reason for their visit to a dealership.

Most stated that they would prefer to finance and pay for a car digitally.

The customer journey can be remapped to make the in-dealership experience more rewarding.

Video can be used to engage the customer ahead of a visit, and paperwork can be completed ahead of time, which leaves the visit to the dealership free to focus on providing a memorable experience.

If we look to high street retail, shoppers increasingly crave a level of intrigue or excitement with every purchase.

Buyers need to be surprised and delighted throughout the experience. The process should provide talkability and the desire to return as soon as possible.

Whether it’s a unique handover experience or chauffeur service to the dealership, everything should be done to build purchase momentum and customer loyalty.

All these elements become easier when salespeople are freed up to do their jobs through better in-dealership technology.

Author: David Boyce is chief executive of Mad Devs and has worked in dealer technology for over 20 years.

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