Edmunds.com chief executive officer Avi Steinlauf — whose company’s own Price Promise tool also aims to foster online-to-showroom efficiency — says he commends AutoNation for introducing a car-shopping tool like SmartChoice Express and “moving the process online.”
“I give them a lot of credit for moving the process online. At the get-go, they’re only going to have certain elements of it online, but aspirationally, would like to move other elements online in terms of the financing, in terms of the trade and things along those lines” Steinlauf told Auto Remarketing in an interview Thursday, the same day SmartChoice Express launched in South Florida.
“So, we certainly welcome that because we know that our shoppers are interested in those types of things, and for those that are (interested), having the ability to do some of the elements online I think is a very positive thing,” he said.
On Wednesday, Steinlauf, linking to an article in The Wall Street Journal, praised AutoNation chairman and CEO Mike Jackson in a Twitter post “for pushing the envelope” as well as the 30-minute target to which the program aspires.
Auto Remarketing talked with Steinlauf about that Tweet and asked him what importance he has seen consumers put on a quick turnaround at the dealership.
“I think that’s a great target,” he said, of the 30-minute target referenced in The Wall Street Journal article and elsewhere in the media. “I think a lot really depends on each individual situation, so it’s hard to generalize.
“But a shopper who’s coming in has, already made up their mind, may have already test-driven a vehicle, has identified the actual vehicle down to a VIN level, and may have already taken care of their financing and some of the other details, ought to be able to get in and out in a short amount of time, if that’s what they’re interested in.”
Steinlauf acknowledges that “not everybody is interested in that,” pointing out that some shoppers may want to receive a comprehensive lowdown on a car in-person while at the dealership.
However, he said, “I think for a large number of folks, they are interested in being able to get in and out in a quick fashion. And historically, the process could have taken a long time, and so, I gave kudos to Mike Jackson and his team because that if they’re able to pull that off, that’s going to be fantastic for everybody.”
And AutoNation may not be the last to move in this direction — particularly, if companies continue to press meeting the changing needs of the consumer base. Steinlauf, for one, says that consumers are becoming increasingly savvy when it comes to using the Web to shop.
“They’re using the tools — whether it’s on their phone, whether it’s on their tablet, whether it’s on their computer — to do their research, to make up their minds and to identify exactly what they’re interested in,” he said. “It doesn’t replace the touch and the feel and the smell, because I think that’s very important. And so there is definitely a place for that test-drive and being able to assess the physical elements of the vehicle.
“But things that used to happen perhaps in an off-line world, if it can be migrated to an online world and become more efficient for both parties — really all parties involved, whether it’s the shoppers and/or the retailers, that being the dealers in this case — I think it’s a good thing,” he added. “I think we’re seeing it in other industries and I think we will continue to see more of it in the automotive industry in way that, again, benefits all of the parties.”
In what parallels much of the online-to-showroom efficiency discussion, Edmunds.com, itself, has implemented things like a dealership “takeover” meshes the third-party and in-showroom experience. Not to mention, the site’s Price Promise program — which gives shoppers a “convenient and reliable way to know exactly what price they’ll pay at the dealership” — has made significant progress, Steinlauf said.
He also hinted that it may be headed to the pre-owned space. Steinlauf told Auto Remarketing that the Price Promise tool could soon be expanded to the used-car market, with a pilot program perhaps rolling out in the first quarter of 2015 and a nationwide rollout to follow in the summer.
Initial testing of Price Promise, he said, has generated a positive reaction from consumers, “and we think there’s a great opportunity for used-car shoppers to be able to see which actual vehicles are available and at what selling price from dealers in their area.”