by Kerry Dowling
If you’re reading this, I think it’s safe to say you know the name Sandy Schwartz.
An industry leader and CEO of Cox Automotive, Schwartz oversees more than 25 businesses serving over 40,000 clients worldwide. Cox prides itself on providing state-of-the-art digital and software solutions that have radically changed the automotive industry in the areas of inventory, marketing, sales, service and mobility. Cox’s expertise isn’t news to anyone in the business. In fact, as a reader of Dealer News Today I’d hazard a guess that you are very familiar with the company and, when you look at the numbers of their customer base, very possibly a client! When someone with this level of experience and success speaks to the industry it behooves us all to listen-especially during such tumultuous times.
On a recent Dealer News Today podcast Schwartz joined Dave Cantin and Andy Cherkasky to talk about the way forward for the automotive industry and, more specifically, dealerships. Make no mistake, Schwartz is acutely aware of how the industry has had to adapt in the past few months due to the Covid-19 pandemic. He applauds the dealers who used their entrepreneurial skills to meet the challenges of the times-most notably, those who embraced and implemented digital technology to address customer needs and wants. By advancing their digital platforms in terms of sales and service, these dealers have been able to hold on to their customer base while also enjoying new customer sales. Is this important? You bet it is. According to Schwartz, this new way of doing business is not temporary. It’s an idea that has been a long time coming and was thrust forward now only as a key to survival in this time of the pandemic.
This belief is echoed by many dealerships who acknowledge that the automotive industry has sorely lagged behind other businesses when it comes to digital integration. If there is a silver lining here it’s this: digitalization is proving to be what buyers want, not just now but moving forward as well. Everyone saw this coming long before the pandemic. The advent of online car sales companies attested to buyers changing attitudes about the car buying process. It became clear that customers wanted a different experience. Most notably, they wanted greater transparency, less sales talk, online approvals, and far faster turnaround in the sales process. The days of spending 4 to 6 hours at a dealership to purchase a car were being challenged by the upstart online companies. Their success was a wake-up call for many dealers who recognized the writing on the wall. Those dealers who implemented digital platforms found themselves in a much stronger position when the pandemic hit. They were able to more easily adapt to offering customers online sales and service even during the quarantine period and they began recognizing, as Schwartz predicted, that this new normal was here to stay.
As the head of a company that specializes in real time digital solutions, Schwartz is at the forefront of technology that enables the automotive industry to digitalize their operations. He acknowledges that technological change is often difficult to introduce in operations that feel content with manual procedures. Technology can be intimidating, can seem overwhelming, and costly – until you actually realize how it can revolutionize your business and your profits. The beauty of companies like Cox is that they don’t just design products and leave customers to figure it out. They work with companies to implement this digitalization including training and support. Their ability to provide digital analytics enables dealers to use real time data and insights to increase customer satisfaction and sales. For those who got on the bandwagon early, kudos to you.
If you’re in the testing the waters phase, keep going. If you haven’t yet hopped on the technology train, the time is now. With the changes in customer behaviors and expectations, no dealership can afford to stick their head in the sand any longer – not when today you can sell, finance, and sign for a car online, and that’s just the beginning of what you can do. Bottom line, if you’re not offering customers a full digital platform, you can bet your competition is. The future is no longer the future for the automotive industry. The future is now and, in the wise words of automotive guru Sandy Schwartz, backsliding is not an option!