A recent article in Automotive News states the era of online car sales has arrived. Some dealerships already offer customers the ability to transact most, if not all, of the purchase experience online. AutoNation CEO Mike Jackson said that in January 2017, 30 percent of AutoNation’s new-vehicle sales were transacted online.
Experts predict this trend is about to be fast tracked, and many dealerships are within a year or two of being able to offer the entire vehicle-purchase experience online.
But there’s one aspect of the online car sales experience that many dealers overlook as they begin exploring this option: their IT infrastructure. As your dealership evaluates online shopping portals, new F&I and leasing apps, and other technologies that allow you to move the car-buying experience online, it’s important to also evaluate whether or not your IT infrastructure can support the increased data.
In order to offer a fast, seamless and secure online transaction, the majority of dealers will need to make upgrades in the following areas:
Have your applications been feeling sluggish lately? Are you still using T-1 or DSL based Internet at your dealership? Many popular dealership applications are now web based or otherwise utilizing your Internet connections to operate. Add on customer WiFi and other increasing demands to have it be just as good as at home, and you are likely at full capacity on your current connection. If you also don’t have a backup you can be completely down when a carrier experiences an outage.
Slowness definitely hurts. Your employees are less efficient, your customers can be dissatisfied and you can lose money from lost time to poor CSI scores.
There are plenty of options for upgrades. Fiber optic services are fast and can be easily upgraded as needs further increase. A best case scenario would be redundant fiber connections or a primary fiber and a coax or similar backup connection.
Servers, switches, PCs and routers that were manufactured more than five years ago do not have the processing capacity to handle the large amounts of data involved with online vehicle transactions. Additionally, many dealership networks are still using Small-Office/Home-Office (SOHO) hardware that they picked up at a local retailer.
If you’re planning to sell cars online, the large amounts of bandwidth and processing capacity involved requires upgrading to enterprise-grade equipment. Benchmark recommendations include:
- If your server is older than three years, purchase a new one. If you don’t have a centralized server set-up, you’ll need to implement one for security purposes.
- If your PCs are older than five years, purchase new ones.
- Check your network switches; 100 Mbps switches are obsolete and will need to be upgraded to Gigabit switches.
- WiFi routers. These need to be enterprise-grade; Cisco/Meraki brand routers are best in class. For security purposes routers should also be cloud-managed.
When you start selling cars online, do you really want your salespeople and F&I people to be texting and calling customers using their personal cell phones? If you’re not sure of the answer, let me make it clear: NO YOU DON’T. For multiple reasons, security being high among them, all customer communications should be sent over a secure network and tracked, just as all documentation will need to be tracked.
Online chat tools, texting apps and Unified Communications Platforms (UCPs) are all systems that can be integrated with your CRM and/or DMS platforms to create secure, trackable and seamless communications channels.
When a customer purchases a vehicle online they’ll be required to enter their personal and sensitive information into a website form. It’s your dealership’s responsibility to ensure that all this data is protected. Collecting and storing social security numbers, birth dates, addresses, bank account numbers and credit card numbers online is no small matter. That’s the type of information that hackers love to target.
To sell vehicles online, your dealership will need to create a virtual fortress. A benchmark recommendation is to hire a trained IT security consultant to oversee this important task. This is not something you want to mess around with.
An important value-add that your dealership can offer that other online shopping sites may not be able to offer is a live, virtual walkaround. If a customer is interested in a particular vehicle, a salesperson can run outside and use a tablet or phone to start a two-way video chat that allows the customer to view the vehicle up close in real-time and ask questions.
This type of service, along with other up and coming location-based technologies, requires a robust wireless network that extends coverage to the edges of your dealership’s lot. For the average-size dealership, this will require a minimum of 25 enterprise-grade WiFi routers. Yes, you read that right. No, that’s not a typo. Trust me, I know.
More vendors are coming out with very cool front-end apps, portals and other technologies to help make online car sales a reality. As dealers evaluate the risks, costs and benefits involved, it’s important to factor in the necessary upgrades to IT infrastructures. These benchmark recommendations should help.
Author: Erik Nachbahr
Erik Nachbahr founded Helion in 1997 with the goal of bringing strong information technology strategies and leadership to auto dealerships. That vision has guided Helion with a focus on outstanding service and innovative, client centric solutions. Nachbahr believes that a strong information technology strategy centers on improving the efficiency of the business it serves while controlling costs. Nachbahr holds a B.A. from Loyola University Maryland, an A.A. from Baltimore International Culinary College and industry certifications from Microsoft and Cisco. In his current role as president and CEO of Helion, he works as chief information officer for a client base with billions of dollars in annual revenue.