“The death of the slimy, sexist car salesmen” by auto journalist Erin Baker details the inevitable shift in the auto industry away from slow-paced, retail-based journey to an online-centered and quick-paced retail experience. Baker examines both sales tactics and gender discrepancies as a starting point to talk about a fundamental customer pain point: they don’t trust automotive salespeople and frequently dislike the sales process for various reasons.
Not only do customers struggle with the “slimy” salesperson stereotype, but they don’t interact with employees on the sales floor, or even shop for cars in the same way as they used to. Customers rely on the internet and their own research first, and go to dealership second, if at all. They no longer have patience for four-to-five-hour marathon negotiation sessions—customers generally loathe price haggling. For these companies to survive, they need to embrace the changes happening in the way auto retailers do business.
“There’s nothing funny about being a car dealer these days. In one of the broadest strokes of economic Darwinism, car dealers are at a critical juncture. Evolve or die.” -Erin Baker
Sonic Automotive & EchoPark—The Original Mobile-Powered Dealership
Sonic, a Fortune 500, Top-5 American auto dealership, began their strategic mobile push to change car sales over five years ago. In 2010, they partnered with Lextech Global Services to create a native iOS inventory app. That app’s successor became the first of a entire suite of apps designed to address their customers’ two major pain points: trust and time.
Today, Sonic and EchoPark, their branded pre-owned dealerships, are doing what no other retailer is doing—growing their business while reducing the time it takes to make a sale by 325%. Sonic and EchoPark customers trust their transparent process, and their employees are measurably happier, too.
Last year this formula for happy guests and employees launched at EchoPark. EchoPark takes that streamlined process and emphasis on transparency to the next level with cafe-style seating, an atmosphere of hospitality, and most notably, the Imagine Bar. (Read more about it here.)
Rockar Hyundai’s Boutique Approach
Another dealership, Rockar Hyundai, referenced in the Telegraph article and located in Greenhithe, England, is a joint venture between Hyundai and Dixon Motors. It opened at about the same time last fall as EchoPark. Rockar was designed to address the pain points of trust and time by creating a mall boutique that integrates a mobile app, large display screens, and a low-key, non-commissioned staff called “Angels.” Baker notes that Rockar is not the first dealership to conceive of a non-commission, technology-rich concept, but she says it’s the only contemporary one in the world.
Similarities & Differences
Sonic and Rockar both are working make the process of selling a car more efficient. Both retailers a pressure-free shopping environment and a commission-free staff. They each use mobile apps in retail and technology to engage the customer in the retail space.
These qualities may be shared by each of their operations, but Sonic’s grasp of mobile is much more strategic, integrated, and rooted in improving their entire sales process with engaging mobile apps. Sonic also has over six integrated mobile applications to better maintain customer relations and further boost efficiency, while Rockar allows customers to interact on their iPads via a single web app.
EchoPark’s native apps are continuously updated with inventory information and provide a quicker, better performing experience. It also appears that, although Rockar’s tablet allows customers to search their inventory, it’s not clear whether it allows side-by-side comparisons of multiple car features or competitor comparisons like EchoPark’s does. Another difference between the two experiences is that EchoPark’s Imagine Bar vehicle search app interacts with a 18′ flatscreen wall to provide an innovative and engaging experience for customers.
A good customer experience is the result of many innovative pieces working together. Sonic’s version of mobile-powered retail is unique. The Imagine Bar is highly engaging and approachable, even for the tech novice, and their salespeople are always available to facilitate the experience with mobile.
Rockar is using its store as a trial to see if it is the right way to be taking the company. Sonic and EchoPark, on the other hand, have invested in connected and transformational mobile apps not just as a way to catch the savvy customer’s eye or interest them with technology, but to help their business succeed and make their customers happy on every front.
We are very proud to create end-to-end mobile solutions with progressive-minded innovators like Sonic. We aren’t alone in our admiration of Sonic’s vision, though. Andrew Grant, VP of Automotive at a customer experience consulting firm, mentions Sonic in an editorial on the future of the automotive customer experience.
Grant’s article talks about the compliation of technology and the human element to create a seamless integrated experience, something Sonic does extremely well. He notes,
“The future of CX will be based on the relationship between customers over their total ownership experience…A great example of this is Sonic Automotive’s EchoPark concept stores in the U.S. who have dispensed with traditional sales people and replaced them with ‘experience guides.’”
Grant underscores this integrated approach as the key to automotive sales differentiation, and we agree. We would add that a business-minded mobile strategy is key to their success. Combine all of those things—technology, customer relationship, mobile strategy, and mobile apps—and you have a roadmap for growth. Sonic Automotive is a leader in automotive retail, and with their mobile strategy they have a set roadmap to success.
Have you been to Rockar Hyundai, a Sonic Automotive, or an EchoPark location? Have you been to another retail location where mobile apps were used? What did you think? What did or didn’t work about it? Let us know your thoughts!