An old saying goes, “Necessity is the mother of all invention.”
It’s an apt description for the development of PSCars.com, a new online vehicle shopping platform that seeks to transform online vehicle shopping and purchasing experiences for the benefit of both consumers and dealers.
“In 2008, we made a concerted effort to diversify and grow our business through expanding our technologies in automotive retailing,” says Dan Kodsi, CEO of PSCars.com and prior President of RPC Holdings Inc., a highly regarded, diversified company in South Florida that developed $1 billion in real estate projects and had holdings in technology and automotive dealership assets.
“Once we started digging in, we found an opportunity for us and all dealers to improve online vehicle shopping and help dealers capitalize on this marketplace,” Kodsi says.
“We’ve had a long track record of incorporating 3D animation and other technologies into online shopping and sales management processes,” Kodsi explains.
“With PSCars.com, we’ve taken the best of these technologies and blended them together to develop a ‘practical system” for dealer online exposure and selling. That’s what the PS in PSCars.com stands for.”
The seeds for the PSCars.com vision
When work began on PSCars.com in late 2008, Kodsi and his technology development team used an RPC-owned dealership as the research, testing and proving ground for the new company vision. They analyzed the way the store handled online vehicle listings and sales, and they studied the current market players to determine inefficiencies and areas for improvement.
Some of their initial take-away insights:
- Kodsi’s store, like other dealerships, lacked an effective, “owned” online presence for showcasing its vehicle inventory (e.g., an online showroom);
- The store wasn’t really equipped to address the growing number of consumers who prefer to negotiate and effectively purchase vehicles without coming to the dealership.
- The current online vehicle shopping sites—e.g., AutoTrader.com and Cars.com—were “too static” for Kodsi and his team. Their consumer research, particularly among younger buyers, suggested a need for a more self-directed, content-rich and easier-to-use shopping platform that would allow consumers to configure vehicles they wanted and offer a “click-to-delivery” process for buying.
- Online vehicle shopping sites did not offer a compelling way “for dealers to market themselves effectively and stand out against competitors,” Kodsi says.
- Current online vehicle shopping sites were difficult to navigate, serving multiple pages of research on vehicles rather than a single “panel portal” that housed everything a consumer would want to see.
- Dealers are worried about how to market and sell to younger buyers for whom the Internet and online shopping is second nature.
“It was an eye-opening experience,” Kodsi says of the initial research and development for PSCars.com.
The company built its prototype and prepared its formal launch about a year ago when necessity spurred a second round of invention and innovation: Apple’s iPad took off like a rocket.
“We had to rebuild our system and develop apps to ensure PSCars.com worked within the iPad and other tablet mobile platforms,” Kodsi says. “Now, we’re not restricting consumers to using a computer—they can shop for vehicles wherever they are using their mobile device of choice.”
The three core elements of PSCars.com
During its initial market research, Kodsi and his team learned that consumers wanted more control over the online vehicle shopping experience. At the same time, they recognized that, like their own store, dealers were unsure about the best way to facilitate online vehicle purchases from their own websites.
In response, PSCars.com addresses these market needs with three core elements:
When visitors go to PSCars.com and click on “New Cars,” they can select a vehicle make and see all models in a 3D showroom that allows them to drill down to vehicle specs and configure their new vehicle trim, interior/exterior colors and other options to fit their needs.
Individual dealers who partner with PSCars.com and sign up for exclusive territories by make will “own” these virtual showrooms. Dealers can brand these online showrooms as they desire, using them to offer up specials and other store-specific content, Kodsi says.
At any point in the configuration process, online vehicle buyers can get a quote, chat live with a member of a dealer’s sales team, build comparison vehicles or skip the configuration steps altogether. “The consumer isn’t forced to do anything and we’ve designed the process to allow multiple touch points for dealers,” Kodsi says.
The New Car Showcase also lets consumers “show off” the vehicles they’ve built with friends. The platform offers cues for consumers to “share” their new vehicle with friends via Facebook. (In fact, the company has already showcased its Car Configurator on its own Facebook page to test its traction. “People love it,” Kodsi says. “Everybody likes the opportunity to build the car of their dreams.”)
Once consumers have built their vehicles, they can continue the purchasing and negotiation process with a dealer’s sales team. “Our platform offers a way for dealers to brand themselves and provide a shopping experience and process that fits their needs,” Kodsi says.
PSCars.com serves up factory-provided information on vehicle specs and incorporates third-party sites like Kelley Blue Book to feed online shopper current pricing on specific vehicles. Likewise, the system links with a dealership’s inventory, sales and CRM systems to capture and track customer interests and information.
Element 2: Used Car Showcase: On the used car side, PSCars.com provides pathways for buyers in any stage of the shopping/buying process—whether they know exactly what they want or they’re kicking tires and comparing multiple makes, models and price points.
Like the New Car Showcase, consumers can configure and find the used vehicle they want by trim, equipment and price. Similarly, the site offers multiple opportunities for consumers to contact dealers directly to schedule a test drive or start negotiations to complete a deal.
A key difference for PSCars.com: The Used Car Showcase allows select dealers to “brand” themselves prominently through “featured listings” of dealerships and vehicle inventory. The featured dealers receive an exclusive space to offer advertorial-style background on their dealership and sales process. In addition, featured vehicle listings allow dealers a more prominent display of their inventory vehicles when they match those consumers select.
“Our single panel design offers a less-cluttered environment for dealers to brand themselves compared to other online shopping sites,” Kodsi says. “Further, this is a way for dealers to ensure consumers know they stock and sell vehicles that may not be the same make as their franchise.”
Element 3: The Negotiator: This component of the PSCars.com platform, which will launch once the company gains critical mass among dealers, powers the “click-to-delivery” purchase process on the site.
It works in two ways:
- Consumers who configure vehicles through the New Car and Used Car Showcases can opt to use The Negotiator panel to begin the purchase process with a given dealership. Kodsi says this feature will appeal to the estimated 55 percent of online vehicle shoppers who want to effectively negotiate and purchase vehicles without coming to a showroom to meet with salespeople. “This is especially true for younger buyers who don’t want to buy cars the same way their parents did,” he says.
- Consumers can use The Negotiator to submit a new or used vehicle of their choice to participating dealers for offers. Dealers then have the opportunity to follow up with an offer and, if a consumer accepts, begin the negotiation and purchase process.
“Our approach provides a more qualified lead to dealers than any other online vehicle shopping sites offer,” Kodsi says.
The Negotiator panel also allows dealers to configure their online purchasing process to suit their stores and sales processes. For example, dealers can use the PSCars.com feature to offer credit applications, accessory purchases, F&I products and other elements of a deal they’d present in an off-line transaction.
Kodsi notes that The Negotiator is not a “capture and control” feature. “Consumers are not forced to complete the process and the site offers multiple ways for consumers to contact a store and connect with a salesperson,” he says.
PSCars.com’s plans for dealer and consumer launch
PSCars.com debuted its system for dealers at April’s Digital Dealer Conference in Orlando. Its sales team is currently meeting with dealers across the country.
“We’re offering special promotional pricing during the initial sign-up period for chartered dealers who want to lock in exclusivity in their market regions,” Kodsi says.
The company is also offering ramp-up options to dealers, depending on the components of the PSCars.com platform they want to integrate into their online vehicle sales strategy.
On the consumer side, PSCars.com has partnered with online and off-line advertising groups to achieve “significant growth” in 2011 and raise consumer awareness about the company’s new vehicle shopping and purchasing portal.
“We believe our value proposition from a price point and positioning perspective is very much in line with consumer and dealer needs,” Kodsi says.
Key executive bios:
As the principal visionary for RPC Diversified Holdings, Inc., Dan Kodsi has spent the past two decades building the firm’s $1 billion portfolio of real estate, technology and automotive dealership assets. His leadership skills include an uncanny ability to harness emerging technologies that provide unique and satisfying customer experiences and ensure more efficient and cost effective sales and management processes for the firm. Kodsi’s innovations have earned awards and recognition for RPC’s pioneering use of 3D animation in sales processes. Kodsi is now marrying his market insights, management skills and ability to create value with the “Practical Systems” venture, and its flagship online automotive retailing platform, PSCars.com.
Ken Horton – Director of Sales
Ken Horton has more than 20 years of successful experience in automotive retail sales and dealership financing. As senior vice president of sales for Bank of America Dealer Finance and vice president of regional sales for Huntington National Bank Dealer Services, Horton built relationship-based sales environments to serve dealer customers. Prior to his dealership financing experience, Mr. Horton worked for six years as a finance director for large volume organizations, including AutoNation. At Pscars.com, Horton is leveraging his dealer relationships and sales management experience to drive the company’s business development efforts.