Is your dealership planning to implement a digital retailing solution this year? If so, you’re not alone. According to a 2017 study by Root & Associates and CDK Global, more than half of dealership management has expressed interest in a digital retailing solution for their website.

Now that more tools are becoming available, it won’t be long before a small percentage of car buyers complete at least part of the purchase process online.

One of the first questions that dealers should ask when implementing a new solution is, “How can we best serve our customers during their online car-buying journey?”

It’s a simple question, but the answer is not.

The first thing to consider is that until now, your websites and marketing strategies have been designed to encourage customers to call or submit a lead, make an appointment and come to your dealership.

The goal is different with digital retailing. You want customers to visit your website to start the purchase process. At some point the vast majority (more than 80 percent) will come to your dealership for a test drive and/or to complete paperwork.

How will you transition the online process to an offline process?

This is where your staff comes in, and why I see dealerships remaining central to the digital retailing process. Online car shoppers need you. They need you for your inventory selection, they need you to accept their trade-ins and many will need your help to arrange finance.

What they don’t need is a salesperson trying to close them. They’ve already made the decision to buy. Online customers need guidance and information; not closing or phone tactics designed to “just get them in.”

It’s important to realize that digital retailing is not just another lead generation tool. It is a tool designed to allow the customer to complete one, some or all parts of the purchase process at their convenience, not yours.

Concierge or Combos?

According to Cox Automotive’s Future of Digital Retail Study, online car buyers prefer staff who are “product specialists,” defined as highly knowledgeable about vehicle specs, features, technology, models and trim levels.

Customers also need someone who is knowledgeable about your digital retailing solution software and sales process, so they can get help navigating through the various steps.

Buying a car is still a pretty complex process, and most people will have questions or needs that can’t be addressed online.

To create the best online customer experience will probably require some experimentation. Options for new roles and responsibilities in your dealership include:

  • Digital sales specialist or concierge to facilitate the online car-buying process
  • BDC agents trained to facilitate the online car-buying process
  • Product and/or brand specialists to answer questions and help with selection
  • High touch, combination sales/F&I managers that oversee the entire process from A to Z

There seems to be a consensus among industry experts that a hybrid approach including several of these roles might emerge. Perhaps you have a combination Sales/F&I manager that oversees the process, with some portions facilitated by a concierge or product specialist.

Alternately, BDC agents guide customers through their journey to a certain point, then hand the deals over to the combination Sales/F&I Manager.

Also, keep in mind that a small percentage of customers will want the new vehicle delivered to their home or work. Who has this responsibility? Ideally, a product specialist who can explain features and take the customer for a post-purchase test drive.

Very likely several new staffing models will emerge as viable, and which one you choose will depend upon how closely it adheres to your desired sales process.

To be clear, I’m not saying the role of the traditional car salesperson is going away. Not yet, anyway. But how your salespeople approach and communicate with online customers is very different than how they interact with a showroom up.

As turnover in your sales force naturally occurs, you might be able to replace some of them with product specialists and concierges.

Look at the young adults who work at Best Buy or Apple. They know their products and they’re trained to give an excellent customer experience. If you can find people with a similar mindset to help with the digital retailing process, your customers’ enthusiasm and satisfaction levels will skyrocket.

How do you think digital retailing will change staff roles and responsibilities in your dealership? Are you ready to make the leap into digital retailing?