The COVID-19 pandemic has certainty given F&I Managers a run for their money these last couple of months. Adjusting to a new way of selling products and signing up customers remotely quickly became the main concern. While many dealers do practice collecting e-signatures, most of it was still done in dealerships. When the pandemic hit and stay at home orders came into play, and most dealers (who were open) working remotely, Finance Managers had to come up with different ways in order to finalize the deal. In these last couple of months, many have adapted to selling products over the phone, email, or via video conferencing with the customer before the paperwork is printed. Once all that is said and done is figuring out the best way to sign up for the customer.
Before the coronavirus epidemic, most dealers would send the salesperson or driver to the customer’s house/job and have the paperwork signed that way – if the customer was unable to come into the dealership. However, the coronavirus forces us to minimalize in-person contact, so dealers turned to their DMS systems and manufacturers in search of other options. CDK Global and Cox Automotive DealerTrack actually released new programs to ensure remote signing capabilities. The programs basically allow the customers to sign digitally from home. Not only did the “sign Anywhere” programs have to smoothly integrate between systems, but they also had to be easy to use for the customer AND ensure that compliance and privacy regulations were being followed. Let’s be honest - 2020 hasn’t been the best year for any of us, but for argument's sake, we can at least agree that technology has come a long way in our industry. Volkswagen Credit and Mercedes Benz Financial are examples of two captive lenders to embrace the remote e-signing/e-contracting programs. Although these programs were probably still about a few months away, COVID-19 sped up the process. Parts of these platforms have been available for a few years, but now there is a driving need. For example, Dealertrack introduced its unified platform back in 2019, but with the pandemic, in a course of 2 months, requests for digital contracting increased by a whopping 98%. That is insane. Yes - every dealership, manufacturer, and lender are all different and unique in their own way, but we can probably safely assume that remote e-signatures are not only here to stay but will grow in the future as they all adopt this process. Clearly it has been a huge help for dealers these last few months and additionally provides customers the safety and convenience of still being able to purchase vehicles with minimal contact.
Don’t get me wrong - this doesn’t mean that brick and mortar stores will no longer be needed. This is just another avenue that dealers can provide to their customers as everything calms down and business grows. As much as it is convenient to do everything online and remotely, not everyone prefers that experience. Customers still like to come in and go on test drives and negotiate in person. Some also feel more comfortable doing paperwork in person as opposed to sharing their personal information over the internet. It’s all about personalizing the experience for the customer. Just like every vehicle is different, every customer is different. Some will want to continue the virtual at-home experience in the future, while others prefer to do everything in person. The more tools we have, the better for us to grow as an industry. Adopting a process for more than one experience can only be beneficial as it will cater to all types of buyers. A dealer who did not have the ability, or process, to sell vehicles virtually before the pandemic, who are currently forced to, can now attract a new group of customers.