Over the last few years, we have all seen the acceleration of internet-based commerce, as pointed out by the constant barrage of statistics: J.D. Power says 56% of online car shoppers are on a mobile device. Cox Automotive tells us 63% of car buyers would be more likely to buy F&I products if they could read about them online first. Adobe announced the last Cyber Monday set a new single-day record with $6.59 billion in retail sales.

These are just a few examples that prove internet shopping is rapidly becoming the preferred method. Let’s examine seven reasons why that is.

1. Convenience
There are no store hours online. There is no traffic to fight. There are no lines at the checkout stand. You don’t have to take time off work or wait until the weekend. A purchase can be made anytime, anywhere.

2. Control
There is virtually unlimited inventory online. A friend of mine was shopping for a new front door. He visited the store in town, but they did not have the color he wanted. He went to the same store’s website, found the door he wanted, purchased it — for less than the store had quoted — and had it delivered in three days.

He knew what he wanted and the internet provided it — efficiently.

3. Comfort

Everywhere you look, people are looking at their phones. It has become more comfortable for us to communicate via text or social media than engage in a spoken conversation. Many will ignore a phone call but immediately respond to a text. Screens have become the most trusted method of communication and gathering information.

4. Accessibility
All the information consumers need is at their fingertips. No one is asking them questions or trying to talk them into anything. The internet respects their decisions. Online purchasing is fast, efficient, and, above all, easily accessible.

And now for the reality check for all of us in sales and F&I. Given the option, more and more people prefer to make their decisions without our input. They prefer to “choose” rather than “be sold.” They trust what they see online more than anything any of us can say to them — even if it is the same information.

Our client’s expectations have changed. They expect respect, transparency, and efficiency. So let’s accommodate them.

5. Respect
When I was trained in F&I, the approach was all about forging a relationship with the client. There were no websites for them to visit for information. (Yes, there was life before the internet.)

We were taught to conduct an interview and ask a series of questions designed to establish the client’s needs. Then we used their answers to prove they needed credit insurance and a service contract. When the client said “No,” we said, “But you told me earlier …”

This method was effective for years, mainly because the dealership was the primary source for information. So our clients depended on us to guide them through vehicle selection and financing options. As auto-related resources became more accessible online, however, that effectiveness waned. Many clients began to feel they were being manipulated. They felt we were being disrespectful. They had done the research and made their decisions before coming to the dealership.

When we began using a tablet-based interactive menu and eliminated the product-focused interview, enrollments increased. Clients began to choose more products. All we had to do was answer questions. We had placed the F&I process in a medium the clients were comfortable with: a screen. It provided them convenience, control, comfort, transparency, and respect.

6. Transparency
Most dealer websites have inventory listings, service department information and scheduling, and credit applications that can be completed online. Very few sites, however, have any mention of F&I product offerings. The “F” is there, so where is the “I”?

Conventional wisdom held that we should not “pre-expose” the client to aftermarket products. Only the business manager discussed them. However, our clients know what happens in the business office. When we withhold product information until closing, it creates suspicion. “If this product is so great, why haven’t I been told about it sooner?” It can feel like a trick to them and it reinforces the negative stereotype they have of us.

There are simple solutions. Product videos are available to post on our websites containing brief descriptions and benefits. Simply listing your options with two or three bulleted benefits will provide clients with at least some exposure to your products. Some menu systems have sharing functionality, allowing an interactive link to be sent via text or email. Providing overviews of our products alongside our vehicle inventory also helps to establish credibility for the client.

7. Efficiency
Our clients’ most valuable commodity is their time. The internet provides them the means to reduce or eliminate time spent at the dealership. They expect us to provide more of the process in a digital mobile environment. Most of our clients still want to test-drive and inspect the vehicle prior to purchasing, but they want to complete as much of the process as possible remotely. They expect our process to be as efficient as buying a new door.

The migration to a more digital and mobile experience will not eliminate the need for professional sales and F&I staff. It will, however, radically change our interactions with clients. Our salesmanship will become secondary to our knowledge and expertise. As the vehicle purchase and finance experience become more self-service, our role will become that of an expert who can answer any question our clients may have.

Digital marketing and purchase solutions are readily available for dealerships, and more are being developed. Our growth and survival demand we embrace the tools to provide our products and services where our clients are shopping. Obviously, that is increasingly online.

Alan Campbell is the owner of ARCampbell Consulting, which offers in-dealership and online training for sales, finance and leasing. Email him at [email protected].