F&I: Right product often pitched at wrong time

CARY, N.C. - 

The car buyer has just about finished the transaction at the dealership.

He or she has researched and researched before heading to the dealership; found the right car, test-drove it and came to an agreement on price with the salesperson.

“What happens is, after kind of what oftentimes is a long drawn-out process filled with a little bit of emotion and perhaps anxiety for a lot of folks, they get done with it,” says Kevin Root, founding partner of automotive and consumer research company Root & Associates.

“It’s behind them.”

At least the consumer thinks it is. In reality, it’s not.

The salesperson tells them there’s some bank paperwork they need to wrap up with the F&I manager and then they will be done.

“The customer does the natural relaxation,” Root said in a June phone interview with Auto Remarketing. “They come down from that emotional state that they were in.

“Then they go into the F&I office and all of a sudden, the conversation turns from the excitement of that car that they just spent, in many cases, months researching to ‘here are all of the possible things that could go wrong with that brand-new car,’” he said.

Therein lies part of the stress many shoppers have when it comes to this task in car-buying.

‘Excitement begins to get peeled back’

Root used to sell cars in the retail world, so he has a firm understanding of what dealers are up against. His background in the auto industry includes time with companies like Cobalt/CDK Global, Dealer.com and DrivingSales

Root’s firm conducted a study on behalf of Cox Automotive that examined the emotions that car-buyers tend to have during specific steps of car-buying process that involve a dealership.

While most steps evoked positive emotions, the F&I process did not.

“The steps that are associated with the highest positive emotions such as excitement and satisfaction had to do with the interacting with the vehicle. This includes the test drive and, not surprising, taking delivery of the vehicle,” Root writes in a January blog post explaining the study. “Delivery had the highest empowerment, excitement and satisfaction ratings, and the lowest disappointment and fear.

“At the other end of the emotional spectrum, we expected the negotiation to have relatively high ratings for anxiety, fear-inducing, confusing and disappointing,” he continued. “But what is surprising is that it wasn’t the most negative part of the process for most people. For this group, the step that elicited the strongest negative emotions was evaluating F&I and other add-on products.”

That F&I office discussion may go into all the various types of insurance that might be needed, above and beyond the warranty that’s on the car. And while those types of services are often useful, Root said in the phone interview, the pitch to purchase them is coming at the wrong time.

While excited about their car purchase, getting into a discussion on warranties at the end of the process can not only be a buzzkill, it may be something for which the shopper is not prepared.

“The excitement begins to get peeled back. That’s on one dimension,” Root said by phone. “On another dimension, it’s (that) consumers are expecting this discussion around price and they arm themselves. They do that research.

“But when it comes to the F&I products, they don’t get a chance to do that,” he said. “And so it’s generally at the end of a long period, they’re kind of tired, they’re oftentimes emotionally drained and all of a sudden this anxiety starts building up again.

“And they’re learning about products that they would like to take into consideration, but they just don’t have the time to prepare and to research and to review the way that they would like to.”

That can lead to confusion, frustration and fear, he said.

“Confused” was word they heard the most in describing that process.

How to fix it

So what are the solutions to that? This is where digital retailing can come in handy, giving the consumer the tools that allow for as much of the research process to be done ahead of time as possible.

If you can get a trade-in value online, Root says, “the next logical step is, ‘Why wouldn’t you put three or four of your F&I products available for the customer to review online as well?’”

Things like short descriptions of the F&I products and bullet points on benefits may prove useful — give them all the info they need upfront, and perhaps even include prices.

The dealers who are employing this method are seeing conversion rates that are just as strong as doing that in store, he said.

“A lot of times, dealers are fearful doing that, because they feel like these products need to be sold, but what the reality is, is that the customer really wants to do the research themselves,” Root said. “And if the value is there, they’ll buy it.”

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