Dealer fear
“One of their fears was loss of control,” Autotrader’s Jessica Stafford says of some dealers’ reaction to Accelerate, a new digital retailing platform. “But it is just the opposite.

‘Do You Really Think Customers Will Buy Cars Online?’

More dealers embrace or at least warm up to digital retailing, but holdouts remain.

Jessica Stafford has heard the same question from dealers more than once during her years at Autotrader.

“They ask, ‘Do you really think customers will buy cars online?’” says the general manager of the Internet buying and selling automotive website.

She’s hearing that less often these days as more and more dealers embrace or at least warm up to digital retailing.

But she acknowledges getting pushback from some doubting dealers when Autotrader in March debuted Accelerate, an enhanced platform that allows users to do online dealing. That includes price negotiating, obtaining trade-in values, reviewing their creditworthiness, applying for credit and learning about F&I products.

“Not all dealers are embracing it,” Stafford says of Accelerate that is on Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book websites. Both are Cox Automotive brands. (Jessica Stafford, below left)

One dealer fear was loss of control, she says. “But it is just the opposite. Customers control the process, but dealers keep control of profitability.”

Auto retailers can do that by establishing their own parameters for structuring a deal and setting online negotiating limits, she says.

Another initial dealer fear about Accelerate was that customers would get a negotiated price from one dealer and take it down the street to another in pursuit of an even better deal.

“But that’s not happening,” Stafford says. “People don’t want to spend time doing research and then doing it over again if they find a dealer with transparency in the first place.”   

F&I managers worried that Accelerate featuring financing and aftermarket services and products online would reduce their chances of selling those things in person, she says. “But we’re seeing more F&I profitability with Accelerate. The F&I manager still controls the process.”

Autotrader introduced Accelerate in March beginning with a pilot program in Las Vegas. Now, nationwide more than 10% of dealers who are Autotrader clients have opted in. A national ad campaign is in the works. Dealers must be on the Autotrader or Kelley platforms to participate.

Today’s car shopping alternates back and forth between online use and in-store visits, Stafford says. “This is a non-linear consumer experience with multiple opportunities to provide engaging value.”

She offers these tips on how to win in the new retail environment:

·        Sell the car, not the appointment.

·        Have a dedicated digital retailing staff.

·        Push advertising to drive engagement.

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