5 things to avoid when building a tier-1 digital retailing solution

#1: Failure to provide a clear vision
Before revamping or developing your e-commerce solution, the most important question to ask should be “What am I trying to achieve?”. Common goals we hear from top OEMs include: creating a transparent and improved customer experience, driving increased tier-1 lead close rates, or creating a fully transactable online shopping experience.

Most OEMs will say, yes, we want all of the above—without acknowledging that trying to achieve everything immediately will likely result in no achievements at all. Experience shows it’s  best to focus on a few specific goals in the short, medium, and long term. 

If you’re unsure where to begin, start with your current program. Conduct an audit of your tier-1 website and your tier-3 websites. Look to identify what the roadblocks are, what you are doing well, and what is working fine but is not best-in-class. 

Areas to consider: 

  • Intuitive navigation
  • Vehicle & product merchandising, including F&I and accessories
  • Purchase path: barriers to calculating payments, incentives, taxes & fees, proper payment stack, credit decisioning, transparency
  • Tier-1 to tier-3 exchange and alignment
  • Customer journey, including CRM

After mapping out your current state, you can next identify your key areas of opportunity. For example, perhaps you didn’t realize it, but the way that you are currently displaying current inventory takes 5 clicks, then provides shoppers with an option to jump to a dealer site to start the process over or submit a generic lead. In this case, you’ll need a more interactive way to engage shoppers to increase conversions.

#2: Underestimating build time
When building out your solution, expect the unexpected. Build in a buffer to your timeline for when that tagging takes an extra two weeks or when an agency has turnover that slows down the project. Although your chosen provider has an off-the-shelf solution, they will customize it to suit your specific needs, which will require development work. At AutoFi, we have a team of 70+ engineers working on our solutions—but project scoping, building, and testing all require significant time.

While some steps in the development process can occur simultaneously, others must build on each other. For example, you can’t begin tagging until there is something to tag. Lead integrations to CRMs won’t be fleshed out until you know your lead sources and requirements for each form. If a roadblock occurs, dependent steps can’t begin (and of course these dependent steps may bubble up new issues). 

Don’t forget that with any process change, the progress will be iterative and take time; don’t give up after one training session if metrics (and attitudes) aren’t meeting expectations.

#3: Overlooking stakeholders
You’ll be working with both internal and external stakeholders when building a DR program. Each of these stakeholders brings their own point of view and expectations that will both help accelerate the process from their expertise and cause slowdowns due to process requirements, resource constraints, or philosophical differences.

In addition to your internal teams, you’ll need to coordinate vendors who manage website integrations, provide taxes & fees, deliver build data, power your trade-in solution, aggregate F&I, facilitate credit applications, run credit, and perform soft pulls. Your provider may have integrations and partnerships with other companies that make this smooth, but depending on your custom solution it may require additional agencies and new contracts—all which can increase the time it takes to launch. AutoFi has developed partnerships with other speciality agencies to feed and accept data from our solution, shrinking build times lower and easing vendor management. 

On top of your external partners, you will need internal stakeholders to coalesce around your vision, which will take strong relationship building skills, forecasting and analytics, and proper project and meeting management. Marketing, customer experience, sales ops, regional staff, IT, PR, advertising, C&I, and legal will all have interest in ensuring the solution works.

Finally, don’t forget to have regular check-ins with your working project team as well as executive sponsors to ensure project alignment and progress. The last thing you want is to realize you left out a stakeholder, which may cause a delay in launch or create someone who becomes a blocker to your solution.

#4: Lack of training plan
Without training, your digital retailing solution will simply become a widget on your website. While it may be an improvement over your current experience, it will not transform the customer journey in the way you may expect. That transformation must not only happen online, but in stores. 

For example, let’s say a shopper builds a deal with accessories and F&I products, submits a credit application through AutoFi’s solution, and receives an approval of credit through your captive finance arm. If the retailer then starts this shopper at square one when they walk into the store, then the customer journey remains fragmented. Only through education and continued training will retailers begin to adopt the process change required for a comprehensive digital retailing experience. Don’t forget that with any process change, the progress will be iterative and take time; don’t give up after one training session if metrics (and attitudes) aren’t meeting expectations.

At AutoFi we maintain a low dealer to success manager ratio (40:1) to ensure monthly communication with a store’s Dealer Principal or General Manager—plus in-store visits for training, retraining, and process improvements every other month. 

#5: Forgetting to roadmap
Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good. Where you launch will not be where you land. When mapping out your vision, determine your minimum viable solution and work toward building it. Communicate to internal and external teams that the solution will evolve rapidly, but to start gaining data, you have to launch something. To align all parties—from your digital retailing provider and other stakeholders—create a detailed roadmap that will give a clear vision where you want to be in the mid and long term. Your roadmap will change; some features or enhancements will become more important and others will become less over time as you learn from the data you collect from launching your solution. What matters most is that you continue to make progress toward the vision you established on day one.