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Adapt to the New Selling Environment with Digital Retailing and Artificial Intelligence

Adoption of online car shopping experiences has rapidly increased this year for both dealers and consumers. According to the 2020 Cox Automotive Digitization of End-to-End Retail Study, 69% of franchise dealers added at least one digital step due to COVID-19, and 76% of shoppers are open to the idea of buying a car completely online.  

Chase Abbott, Vice President of Sales for VinSolutions and Dealer.com, recently joined the team at Dealer News Today to talk about how dealers are adapting to this changing landscape with tools like digital retailing and artificial intelligence. Read on for excerpts from his interview.   

Chase Abbott, Vice President of Sales for VinSolutions and Dealer.com  

I think dealers have responded pretty darn well to the events of 2020. We had a surge with digital retailing when the pandemic hit in March and April. A lot of folks were hesitant to buy digital retailing pre-pandemic. I think once it hit, and dealerships didn’t have showrooms full of folks anymore, they wanted to start selling cars online.  

But some dealers went about it kind of begrudgingly. We still have work ahead on changing hearts and minds on what doing a car deal looks five or 10 years from now. In fact, recent Cox Automotive research is showing that nearly half of dealers plan to go away from digital retailing when things get “back to normal.” I think it’s going to be hard for some of those dealers to compete who are just thinking about keeping the doors open versus opening more doors.  

But today’s dealers need to do all of it. Why would you cut yourself out of a spot with potential sales? Why wouldn’t you want to do traditional, hybrid, and drive toward fully digital? Why wouldn’t you want to cover all of those bases so your volume and bottom line at the end of the month is better than it would have been? We have to adapt to compete with new form online retailers, and I think dealerships are in a good spot to do that.  

We’re seeing really tremendous gains with CRM artificial intelligence technologies that are now in automotive. Dealers are used to having a showroom full of customers, where it is easy to spot the social cues that tell you what’s going on with a customer. In person, you know if they don’t like the color, there’s an issue with the payment, or they can’t swing the down. They’re right there; I can read everything. I as the dealer have a tremendous amount of control in that situation. But now, with all of that same behavior moving online, many dealers are blind.  

That is an issue, and tools like Connect Automotive Intelligence are allowing dealers to regain some of the control. When all these shoppers are online, they’re leaving a footprint—a trail of breadcrumbs of everything they’re looking at and searching for. There are all these cues. The issue was that there wasn’t a tool to interpret it. We’ve always been able to get you that website data. Here are hundreds of URLs; good luck sorting through it.  

Tools like artificial intelligence are now measuring all of those data points and leveling up trend lines in that data to give us insights on what customers are looking at. If they’ve online clicked on Nissans, don’t send them an email for a Ford. We know they are extremely loyal to Nissan. I want to know all those things when I follow up, but I don’t have time to read 2000 lines of code. And who would want to? That’s terrible. So we’ve got to outsource it to technology.  

If we can stay relevant in the customers’ eyes there’s a much higher likelihood for conversion. But without tools like AI, you have no idea. You could on the wrong car the whole time and not know until eventually the customer tells you they bought another car. AI allows you to scale, make sure you have efficiencies in place, and keep anything from falling through the cracks.   

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Listen to the full interview on Dealer News Today 

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