It’s hard to get away from the debate about online F&I these days. There are some very good arguments on both sides of the aisle, but I don’t think we can afford to just ignore it anymore. The fact is, people like to shop online. They are researching the cars they plan to buy down to the trim level and accessories before they ever set foot on a dealer’s lot, and F&I can’t really afford to continue to be the lone holdout.

Backing up that belief is a study done by MakeMyDeal, a Cox Automotive company that is looking to change the way dealers sell cars. “F&I is one of the biggest parts of the buying process that has still not moved into the digital age, and dealers have been hesitant to evolve this process because it’s a major profit center,” said Mike Burgiss, founder and vice president of MakeMyDeal, in a press release about the study last spring. “However, our study shows that the current F&I process breeds consumer skepticism. By changing when and how the shopper is introduced to F&I products, dealers could see a dramatic change in consumers’ likelihood to buy F&I products.”

At RoadVantage, we believe the first step is all about education. As the MakeMyDeal study found, most consumers are confused by what the products being offered in F&I really are. There is lot of confusion out there, and as an industry we aren’t doing enough to set the record straight. Even consumers who walk in the door today believing they know exactly what each F&I product does are often wrong: 46 percent of respondents who claimed to be familiar with Vehicle Service Contracts did not select the correct definition when surveyed. Similarly, 56 percent of those who claimed familiarity could not identify the correct definition for Prepaid Planned Maintenance.

This is a problem.

By taking the approach of using the dealership website to educate consumers, everyone will win. Consumers will gain a true understanding of the benefits of F&I products, and be far more interested in hearing more. F&I managers won’t have to start from scratch every time with every customer, overcoming the same objections and misinformation again and again. And the dealership will see an increase in sales as more consumers seek to add protection to their new vehicles.

The biggest objection to taking F&I online seems to be around the sales process. There are so many requirements for disclosure, and so many variables, that it is understandable why so many people would look at it as being a bad idea. But there is a difference between education and sales.

Adding an F&I Education component to dealership websites will enhance the value F&I managers bring to the table, not reduce it. Rather than being seen as an enemy consumers have to vanquish to walk away with their vehicle, the F&I manager will become a partner in helping them get the right coverage for their family — exactly the way it should be.

Burgiss said it right when he noted, “When F&I product information and pricing is brought online, the dealer not only provides an exceptional buying experience, but they also help more shoppers realize the value these products provide. And since consumers are more likely to buy F&I products and services when they learn about them earlier in the vehicle purchasing process, dealerships have a huge opportunity to grow their bottom lines while providing an experience that consumers desire.”

This post was written by: Garret Lacour, CEO RoadVantage

Published: October 16, 2015

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