Ford has announced a new dealer-tested system of digitally selling cars, Express Checkout, has been approved for a national rollout to all Ford dealers.
Rick Ricart, of Ricart Auto Group in Columbus, OH, is a dealer who “road tested” system that works largely in conjunction with Ford Credit. We asked him about the initiative, how it works and what he thinks about it.
Armbruster: What does Express Checkout do for the average car buyer?
Ricart: It saves them time. The amount of time it takes to buy a car has been the No. 1 complaint for as long as I have been in the business. Last industry data I saw said 3.9 hours on average. We want that number to be less than one hour of total dealership time.
Armbruster: If it makes car buying easier, what does it do for the car-buying process? Could it speed up from the current 90-day consumer buying cycle? In other words, could a buyer skip steps and buy sooner?
Ricart: If Express Checkout is used during that process, it can absolutely help save time. The new car shopping/selection process is really a consumer driven step. Where Express Checkout steps in is when the consumer has narrowed the selection to a main vehicle of interest and wants to see payments and options. They will get real payment information and can make a buying decision.
Of course, that is where they may realize they are on too much vehicle and “re-car” themselves. Either way, they know without having to walk into a dealership blind.
Armbruster: How have banks and credit unions reacted?
Ricart: At first we had resistance from the banks. This concept and product are new, and finance institutions are not known to venture into new frontiers without all of the due diligence required. We helped speed that up when the first credit unions signed up. (They move a little faster than the big banks.) Once Ford Credit announced their partnership, it blew all those doors wide open. The banks must keep up with the captives, and vice-versa. (Rick Ricart, below)
Armbruster: How would it also benefit a bank or credit union that’s involved with this service?
Ricart: It’s online and automated. Any time you can make it faster and easier to do business your business will increase. The bank gets the chance to focus on the customers they want, to be aggressive where their business model sees fit without having to wait or worry about human error.
Armbruster: Car buyers have real and live information – such as price, payment, trade-in, credit approval, delivery date and details – all within a local dealer website.
Ricart The ultimate goal is to accomplish everything you mentioned in one package. The trade-tools today need to evolve; we still must verify the trade condition and info on-site. Everything else is built-in.
The guest wants to fulfill his or her expectation as soon as possible, and the expectation is a new vehicle.
Armbruster: Could this be a tool to compete better against the likes of Carvana?
Ricart: Absolutely, Carvana is a direct competitor to all car dealers. It’s time franchise car dealers have a process and product to compete.
I don’t see Carvana staying around for long in their current business model, but they are helping to accelerate and create change. If we create products and processes that (refutes) Carvana’s claims that consumers don’t like car dealerships, then we win.
Armbruster: Would salespeople require additional training to factor in Express Checkout in their selling process?
Ricart: Yes. The training really comes down to speed and convenience. We want to make the process seamless. It has to flow. We can’t hit a reset button or not be 100% prepared and ready when a guest arrives.
It has more to do with “get ready” than the actual process when the guest arrives. Our sales staff is now hourly so they can work as a team, focus on hospitality and make sure we are authentic and genuine in all we do. Training on those topics is good for everyone.
Armbruster: What impact will Express Checkout have on the dealer bottom line?
Ricart: We see this as a critical piece to help us adjust to today’s turbulent industry and margin compression. Will we be able to sell the vehicles at a higher price? I doubt it. I’m not banking on that. The word of mouth and marketing side will improve, and the overall personnel expense will go down, mainly once the F&I process is integrated and more consumers are choosing their own options rather than being sold or persuaded. That’s the real Amazonification of the industry. The power of choice over perceived persuasion.
Armbruster: Do you think consumers will adapt to this quickly?
Ricart: Like all major changes, it will take time. During the 1.5-year pilot stage we had the majority of users asking; “Is this even real, can I really buy a car online?” It’s taking a while for consumers to wrap their heads around it. Once we educate the community and make sure Express Checkout is mentioned at every touch-point, it will grow rapidly.
Adam Armbruster is a senior partner in the business growth firm Eckstein, Summers, Armbruster & Company located in Red Bank, New Jersey and can be reached at 941-928-7192.