Shaping Our Future The former editor of F&I magazine returns with a message about F&I’s future and the opportunities that emerged through COVID-19. By: Gregory Arroyo I am honored to join Marv on his new venture. As I told him during the different phases of this project, the industry misses his passion and, most of all, his voice. He is a true steward of the F&I industry, defending its purpose, the people who do it day in and day out, and its future at a time when some question if it really has one. I met Marv at the end of my first year as editor of F&I and Showroom, when he schooled me on what exactly my readers needed over steaks and a few adult beverages. It wasn’t long before I’d need more than his advice, and his Mad Marv column was born. It’s a shame my old publication claimed the name as its own, even though it was Marv who gave it life. But enough with the past. It’s time to look forward — something I’ve been doing quite a bit since leaving F&I magazine in September 2018 to join one of this industry’s technology providers. The experience so far has confirmed my respect for the plight of the F&I manager, but it also opened my eyes to the critical role technology plays in driving front-end processes. So here’s my controversial statement: I do believe digital retailing has a future in our industry. However, I’m not sure what we’ll see will look anything like those supposed car-buying studies said it would look like. The best analogy I can give is one I heard from Randy Berlin, who serves as global director of dealer consulting for Urban Science. His analogy likened digital retailing to the autonomous car — Berlin noting that not many people were all-in on self-driving cars at the outset. But the drive to deliver that experience gave us popular features like adaptative cruise control, lane-departure warnings, and automatic emergency braking. He says, “Digital retailing is synonymous with that; I can do most of the transaction online, and it’s more than just submitting a credit application. It’s a doc you can sign electronically and those sorts of things. Then I get to complete the transaction at the dealership because I want to see the vehicle.” I bring him up because Urban Science commissioned The Harris Poll to survey 1,506 adult consumers in June — 71% of whom said dealership people have the expertise necessary to help them navigate the complex process of buying a car. Remember, there are plenty of online resources available to tell a consumer the price they should pay for a vehicle, but not many are prepared to cut a check for the full amount. Instead, they need you to translate that great price into a finance or lease payment. “So here’s my controversial statement: I do believe digital retailing has a future in our industry. However, I’m not sure what we’ll see will look anything like those supposed car-buying studies said it would look like” “ That is where a digital retail tool can also help, I believe, especially when you consider that about a third of respondents to The Harris Poll’s survey said they would wait to visit a dealership until they felt comfortable given COVID-19 health risks. The good news is that 90% of them believe personal vehicles are by far the safest means of transportation vs. bike shares, Ubers, trains, commercial flights, taxis, and the subway. That might explain why some of you are seeing such high pent-up demand at your stores. Here’s what else came out of the study: While seven in 10 respondents agreed they would limit the number of dealerships they visited if they were purchasing or leasing a new vehicle right now due to health and safety concerns, 93% of them expressed some concern with an entirely online vehicle purchase process. Why? Because they want to touch, feel, and experience the vehicle first-hand. Now here’s where it gets interesting: According to survey results, two-thirds or more respondents said they were more than comfortable shopping and viewing vehicles of interest online (78%), are OK handling contracts or finance paperwork and discussions online, and are willing to negotiate price or terms via email, chat, or phone (67%). And, here’s one more stat to ponder: 67% of survey respondents indicated they would be more than open to buying a new vehicle online if it was a brand or dealership they were already familiar with. I recently wrote that data mining might represent digital retailing’s launchpad. Hey, don’t repeat customers deserve a different experience? They don’t need the service tour again, right? So, what should that experience look like and how much of that transaction should happen online? Here’s my point: None of this data should be viewed as a threat to F&I. Instead, it represents an opportunity for you to shape the future of F&I. As I’ve always said, the industry’s road to the Digital Age runs through F&I, and nothing of what I’ve shared here changes that. Gregory Arroyo is the former editor of “F&I and Showroom” and “Auto Dealer Today”magazines. He now serves as senior manager of strategic content for Dealer Socket. Email him at garroyo@dealersocket.com. 10

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