I was recently shopping online for a new appliance for our home. I was doing my research and checking out the reviews on each product to help me decide which one to purchase. I knew I wanted to only go to one place to buy and I wanted to get the best model at a fair price.
I was able to accomplish my objectives with relative ease. On just about every website I visited, I was offered a service contract to protect the appliance I was considering. There was also information on the site explaining what the service contract covered, how claims are submitted, how the work gets done and by whom. Very informative and transparent.
It occurred to me that this process seems a lot like how most consumers look for a new car or truck — except for one thing.
I decided to conduct an unscientific experiment and searched for a new truck and a vehicle service contract and tire-and-wheel to go with it. I found an abundance of information on trucks and reviews for the dealers who sell them.
Just about every dealer website I found allowed me to search inventory and apply for credit. Most had the cute young woman pop up in the bottom right corner ready to chat with me by text. I could make a service appointment, leave a review of the site, and so on.
What I couldn’t find is any information on these dealer websites about the VSC or the tire-and-wheel coverage.
It caused me to consider this question: Why do we keep F&I products a secret?
But I Don’t Live in Ohio
If the data is accurate, the average consumer spends 12 to 17 hours online researching the “what and where” portion of their new-vehicle purchase decision. Most dealer websites provide consumers the ability to search inventory, check vehicle history and apply for credit. None of the five dealerships I searched provided any information on the products available in F&I.
Undeterred, I expanded my search. I searched “Vehicle service contract for my Ford F-150.” Just one dealership appeared on the first page, and it was at the bottom. It was a Ford dealership in Ohio. The only problem is, I live in Florida.
The information that did appear on the first page were companies that market to our customers after they say “No thanks” to us on the VSC in our F&I office. It must be a big business because the first page was full of these companies except for a Consumer Reports article on vehicle service contracts. (Not a good read, by the way.)
My unscientific research leads me to believe that dealers want to keep this part of their business a secret. Why? Dealers spend a lot of money on SEO and ad words to attract people to their sites and to be as high on the first page as possible. They do this to ensure that consumers who are seeking the information they need to make an informed purchase will land on their site.
F&I Education by the Numbers
A recent Cox Automotive report on the vehicle buying process had some very interesting statistics.
They found that 63% of those interested will purchase F&I products if they can research them beforehand. Sixty-nine percent of those interested but most skeptical become more interested in F&I products after they understand what they are.
Seventy-two percent of shoppers are interested in learning about F&I products, and a whopping 83% of those interested are interested in learning about F&I products before they come into the dealership.
Good news for that dealer in Ohio but bad news for you if your dealership’s website doesn’t provide any information on F&I products at all.
Another interesting observation is that most consumers who may consider F&I products are mainly interested in learning more and understanding better the benefits of the products we offer in F&I. It seems they are OK waiting to discuss price until they get to the dealership.
The Secret Is Out
Based on the research and data, more dealers may want to consider putting information about F&I products on their sites — and not with the intent to sell the products we offer in F&I to the consumer. Rather, our intent is to educate and inform the consumer about the products we offer in F&I.
You may also want to consider a digital marketing budget for the F&I department. Setting aside some of the monthly budget for ad words that support F&I products might help that guy looking for a vehicle service contract for his Ford F-150 land on your site instead of that Ohio dealer’s site.
Another thing to consider is asking anyone who has been in your service department and has had a claim paid with a product you sold them to go onto your website and write a review for that VSC or tire-and-wheel protection. That way, when people are online searching and reading reviews to decide where to buy their vehicle or have it serviced, they will read reviews on the products you offer in F&I. And the good news is that, if the F&I manager responds to those reviews, it will increase your local SEO.
If we stop keeping F&I products a secret and educate and inform visitors to our dealership website on the products we offer in F&I, they may show up at the dealership interested in talking about those products. They also may appreciate the convenience of being able to purchase a VSC from you locally, instead of having to buy it in Ohio.
John Tabar is director of training for United Development Systems Inc. (UDS). Email him at [email protected]