By now, everyone reading this has heard the term “digital retailing.” Most people in and around automotive circles can now define digital retailing as the ability to seamlessly and efficiently connect the online shopping and buying journey with the showroom transaction process.
The promise of digital retailing certainly benefits car shoppers, many of whom are clamoring for a shorter process when they arrive at the dealership. And with everyone now dealing with COVID-19, car shoppers will rely even more on the digital retailing process.
How Much Time Are People Spending Car Shopping?
According to Cox Automotive, from initial research to completing the purchase, a car buyer will spend, on average, 96 days in the car-buying process1.
Cox Automotive also points to a larger number of consumers leveraging online research when shopping for a car. According to its latest 2019 Car Buyer Journey study2, buyers are spending 61% of their time online when shopping for a car, a slight increase from 57% in 2017. Incidentally, overall shopping time is lower for those buying new- and used-vehicles. The study points out that consumers currently spend about 13 hours and 55 minutes researching and shopping for a vehicle, down from 14 hours and 44 minutes two years earlier.
A long transaction time is just one of the frustrations of today’s car shopper. Interactions with F&I remains another point of contention. According to Autotrader, 81% of car shoppers4 give the test-driving process an eight to 10 approval rating. However, satisfaction levels declined to 67% when F&I interactions were also factored in.
To combat this, more dealers are beginning to leverage additional online education of F&I options when shoppers are beginning their research online.
What Are Today’s Digital Retailing Options?
The good news is that people have plenty of options online when researching and building all the options for their next vehicle, and with digital retailing solutions now being implemented, much of this process will now translate to the showroom so that the customer doesn’t have to start all over when they step foot in the showroom.
However, when it comes to F&I options, there still remains a large disconnect between the online research they do ahead of time and the experience they have in the showroom at the time of transaction.
While many F&I options can be beneficial to a car buyer, such as vehicle service contracts and ancillary protection, the customer perceives these as upsells at the last minute inside the F&I office, which at that time feels combative.
F&I is Left Out of the Process – For Now
More specifically, approximately 87% of Americans dislike3 some aspect of car shopping at dealerships, with the majority saying they feel pressured to buy right away or to buy additional features. This pressure and mindset can be lessened if car shoppers have information ahead of time on F&I product options, so they can learn the benefits of these products in the comfort of their own home, as opposed to the dealership where they don’t have time to make proper considerations.
The biggest opportunity for dealers remains in the amount of time that it takes a consumer to get through the entire purchase process, especially online. A time-consuming F&I process can be stressful and is the primary source of customer dissatisfaction. Consumers want to complete parts of the vehicle buying process online prior to visiting the dealership and engage with digital technology while at the dealership. This way they are not sitting around for hours waiting for the paperwork to be finalized.
Addressing these opportunities provides significant benefits to dealerships. As more dealers incorporate F&I product options and education earlier in the process, the greater the chance to include F&I products in the final transaction through a less adversarial environment.
Tim Blochowiak is vice president of dealer sales at Protective Asset Protection, a full-service provider of F&I programs offering vehicle protection plans, GAP, ancillary products, training and other services through vehicle dealerships.