Edmunds launches digital leasing program

Action at the Edmunds booth during NADA Show 2018 last month. Photo by Joe Overby.

Edmunds has launched a digital retail pilot that lets the car shopper complete a lease deal online, through a dealership.

The Santa Monica, Calif.-based company started the leasing pilot in Los Angeles with local dealers there and has opened the platform throughout California, leaders with the company told Auto Remarketing during an interview at the NADA Show 2018 last month in Las Vegas.

The program is available in California for any dealer using RouteOne. Edmunds did not have a specific date on when it would be available outside the state.

“I think it’s no secret that there remains a disconnect between customers’ expectations in the year 2018 for what an automotive buying, shopping experience can be like, and what’s deeply available to dealers to make accessible to those customers,” said Paul Cox, director of product management at Edmunds. “And we’re just trying to bridge that gap.”

Cox is heading up the platform’s development. He said the consumer would start the online lease process through one of the various modules where Edmunds is showcasing a “differentiated” experience with leasing, like lease deals pages, model-specific pages and search results pages.

The shopper can set up “penny-accurate payments” and choose add-on products then review the deal, apply for financing and receive “real-time decisioning” on the lease that reflects the dealer’s chose finance source, Cox said.

Once the customer has received approval, he or she can either have car delivered or visit the dealership to pick up their ride.

And again, this is being done through partnering dealerships, who set the pricing and finance sources, Cox said. The inventory available is the dealer inventory.

Nick Gorton, the vice president of innovation at Edmunds, added more color to the starting point of the initial lease set-up.

“At the highest level, our own advertising is telling people — like, on social media — ‘Come to Edmunds, lease your next car,’” he said, noting the same for ads within the Edmunds website.

“But it’s partly specials where we’re saying, ‘Hey, here’s some cars that we think highly of, that are good prices, that you can actually transact on.’ And then the other is more self-guided, where you’re in the market for a car and you’re searching and sorting inventory in all the ways that people do on our site,” and then Edmunds informs the shopper that he or she can take the next step to purchase, Gorton said.

In other words, one avenue is presenting a new option during the shopper’s “normal flow” of car research, and the other is targeting the shopper looking specifically at lease deals, Gorton said

Edmunds, naturally, is targeting areas where lease penetration is high. That includes its own home turf.

“It doesn’t always sound like a lot but 2 (million) out of the 17 million cars that are sold in America are sold in California,” Gorton said, calling the state one of the largest markets in which one could operate.

“And we felt like if you could really get traction in California, you could expand,” he added. “But we look at our data on our platform and we can see where there’s pockets of people that lease a lot. So, you can identify areas of New York and some other markets that have high lease penetration.”

As such, Edmunds is trying to reach the areas where those consumers are and launch in those markets first, Gorton said. The rollout will be region by region, he said.

“Partly because we want to do it where we can have good partnerships with the dealers and make sure we have that down,” Gorton said.

And, also, so that the company can make sure the platform is aligned with state regulations and so forth.

So why leasing for the digital retailing instead of a traditional purchase? Edmunds examined consumer research and who opts in for differentiated experience like this, Cox said. He also points out that when it comes to the actual decisioning by the financing party, it is simpler.

And the customers themselves, Cox suggested, have a psychological profile that tends to be “transactional.”

“They’re in market more frequently; they really have affinity for a given make or a make/model combination or sometimes just looking to roll into those or something subtly different,” Cox said. “They have a monthly payment that’s sort of built into their budget. It remains consistent. They’re looking to continue. And so, a lot of conversations just led to (the fact that) what these people are looking for is a relatively simple transaction.

“Now, it’s a harder one to engineer, but more simple because of the aspects I mentioned,”  he said. “They’re looking for something that’s convenient.”

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