FCA’s digital retailing solution a ‘first step’ as buying process evolves

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After just a few weeks in market, FCA Canada said leads generated via its new digital retailing experience converted to sales at a “significantly higher rate” than those from its FCA digital program average.

The early success appears to be proof positive the automaker’s jump into the e-commerce arena with an online retailing solution designed to make it easier for consumers to begin a vehicle purchase digitally was a step in the right direction.

“Our dealers have been very receptive to the idea that today’s consumer expects to complete more of the steps in their vehicle buying process online,” explained Bill Levasseur, vice-president of sales and marketing with FCA Canada.

“FCA has wonderful financing offers, so the ability to showcase the offers on actual inventory units was embraced by our dealerships. Since rolling the product out, early returns have been positive.”

The system comes courtesy of a partnership with Dealertrack Canada. It gives potential buyers the chance to pre-qualify and apply for financing on both new and used vehicles and use an enhanced payment estimator for actual vehicle in inventory.

Additional features like a trade-in estimator as well as the ability to reserve a vehicle with a deposit and purchase service packages will be added, though no timeline was given.

Levasseur said FCA Canada spent “significant time” in the planning stages and worked with Dealertrack to aggressively bring this to market over the last six months.

It started with a two-month pilot program with select FCA dealers. He noted the results reinforced the notion this technology helps improve and expedite the buying process by giving customers the ability to review their payment options and apply for financing from home while on the dealer’s website.

“That time-savings is valuable not only to the consumer, but to the dealer as well,” he said. “The pilot assisted us in developing a strong digital marketing experience that our pilot dealers found to add value to their sales process.”

Available now through select FCA dealer sites are VIN-specific payments for financing and leasing as well as short- and long-form credit applications for Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Ram and Fiat brand vehicles, depending on how dealers configure their websites.

The automaker noted it would continue to work with Dealertrack to build an even more robust experience. While neither Dealertrack nor FCA executives offered a timeline, both confirmed the recent launch was a “first step” and said consumers could expect to see an integrated trade-in tool and the ability to put down a refundable deposit on a vehicle in the future.

The move comes as little surprise to industry watchers as it marks the latest of a growing number of automakers to move into the digital retailing realm. The depths of current offerings from OEMs vary from build-and-configure to full online purchase capabilities, but all represent a changing shift in automotive retail strategies.

Consumers are well-informed and want control in an online setting; now a handful of OEMs and individual dealers and dealership groups are meeting them there.

Richard Evans, vice-president and general manager of Dealertrack Canada explained the FCA rollout is for retailers on Dealer.com platform meaning roughly 90 per cent of FCA dealerships in Canada.

This deal also marks the first partnership Dealertrack has inked with an OEM (it had previously and continues to offer its robust digital retailing suite in Canada via a partnership with TRADER).

“More will be coming,” Evans told Canadian AutoWorld. “We see partnerships with dealers, dealer groups, OEMs, lenders, etc. We’re trying to build an agnostic platform that powers unique experiences and gives all of those stakeholders the ability to configure.”

The product roadmap will see the addition of aftermarket sales along with digital authentication and digital signing, though no timeline was given for those features, either.

“Internally, everyone believes in the strategy and the mission. I think what has changed is the commitment to invest behind it. It’s easy to say, but it’s hard to do. These things are hard to build and Dealertrack as an organization has put its money behind it,” he noted.

Evans said customers are ready to participate in these digital car-buying experiences. And while it might be small, it will evolve over time, but everyone can see there are customers interested in doing this and the time to invest in this is now.

When asked how dealers should feel about an expanded online sales presence that will likely keep people from kicking tires in dealership showrooms until the very end of the purchase, Levasseur said the network understands that shopping behavior and expectations are continually changing.

“We are working together with our dealers to accommodate a digital retail sales solution that compliments the traditional showroom experience by providing useful, integrated tools that simplify the process and provide consumers peace of mind,” he said.

“Customers will still need to complete the final purchase transaction at a local dealership. Digital retailing isn’t a replacement for the showroom but rather a mechanism for getting consumers through the car-buying process in a quicker, more efficient manner – which satisfies consumer demand and is also a more efficient use of the dealership’s resources.”

Bill Johnston from Johnston Motor Sales in Hamilton, Ont., is the head of FCA Canada’s national dealer council. Though he was not in the pilot program, he said dealers are usually big fans of any solution that will help them sell more cars and make the retail process smoother for consumers and retailers.

“Having been a Chrysler dealer family for 90 years, Chrysler has always worked as a partner with us to find ways that we can collectively succeed. We succeed when we’re both selling cars, this is just another way of trying to be a partner.”