Driving the Car Buying Revolution

by Bill Meyer
Driving the Car Buying Revolution

When it comes to digital retail, buying a new car has lagged behind other products and services that can be purchased entirely online. Many would agree that the auto industry as a whole is behind the digital curve when it comes to the car buyer’s experience.

However, that is rapidly changing.

According to a Google/comScore study from earlier this year, a whopping 95% of car shoppers research online before setting foot on a dealer’s lot. The degree to which auto buyers engage in online research varies, but the vast majority of consumers rely on, and expect a digital experience, using websites, mobile apps, and social media to research a variety of touchpoints throughout the auto shopping and buying process. This includes:

• vehicle makes and models
• data such as gas mileage, safety ratings and price
• after-market add-ons
• dealer stock
• trade-in value for current vehicle
• financing options

Auto shoppers, on average, visit approximately 6 websites, according to Google and Luth Research, to collect information prior to purchasing their next vehicle. Increasingly, credit unions are turning to solutions like CU Direct’s AutoSMART auto shopping site to deliver a next-gen digital experience to their members. Nearly 900 credit unions have incorporated the AutoSMART website as part of their member offerings, and to help stay engaged with them from the inception of the car shopping/buying process. AutoSMART offers shoppers access to over 2.2 million vehicles from 13,000 dealerships nationwide. Each month, credit union branded AutoSMART sites help drive a member-centric car-buying experience, advancing member loyalty, and helping credit unions retain more member car loans.

“Consumer expectations around automotive research and buying are increasing exponentially, which challenges us to provide valuable data, features, and experiences to help them on their shopping journey,” notes Jason Samson, CU Direct’s director of automotive media. “Consumers are no longer just looking for vehicle and dealership information online; they now expect features that simplify the entire experience, such as pricing comparison guidance, robust trade-in functionality, and the ability to reserve a vehicle on their mobile device.”

Armed with so much research at their fingertips, today’s car shopper is visiting fewer dealerships; based on data from McKinsey they average just 1.6 dealers visited per purchase, compared to an average of three dealer visits just a few years ago.

This is having a dramatic effect on the automobile dealer industry, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Because consumers require less information from salespersons, such as vehicle features and options, dealers are increasingly expecting sales staff to be more productive, selling more cars in less time. Salespersons are also expected to be better educated in the customer experience and have higher emotional intelligence to be more effective at closing sales.

To remain relevant, if not top of mind, with members, it’s essential for credit unions to incorporate technology that responds to and meets new consumer expectations in the digital marketplace. Earlier this year, CU Direct integrated its Auto Premier car buying service into AutoSMART, further simplifying and enhancing the digital car buying experience by making it easy for members to reach personal auto advisers through a chat window or by phone. The Auto Advisors can also help credit union members navigate the shopping experience, creating a more convenient purchasing process.

The latest version of AutoSMART has introduced a number of new features and capabilities, including a Pricing Guidance tool that compares the price of a car offered at a local dealer to others in the market, ensuring the credit union member receives a good deal. This service models others in retail shopping, such as real estate apps that compare home prices to other comparable listings in the market.

At the midpoint of the year, CU Direct’s network of credit unions is the largest auto lender in the country, edging out Capital One to become the nation’s number 1 lender, booking almost 568,000 auto loans during the first six months of 2017. CU Direct credit unions ended 2016 as the second largest auto lender, behind Wells Fargo. Digital solutions like AutoSMART are playing a major role in helping credit unions achieve that success, as consumers continue to embrace digital retail experiences.

Key for credit unions’ ability to serve more members and grow auto lending, is to engage members early on in the auto buying process, and stay top of mind as they move through the process of buying their car. To accomplish this and increase their market presence, credit unions need to integrate a streamlined car buying process to their existing reputation for superior loan rates and service.

The challenge has been building a tool that provides a streamlined experience and seamless integration for all of car buying’s moving parts. AutoSMART’s next gen technology is advancing the evolution of car buying, with the end-goal being the first solution to offer an entirely digital car shopping and buying experience.

As Samson concludes, “our goal is to help credit unions engage the member very early on in the shopping process and then keep them engaged as they buy the car. And streamline the process so that much of it is completed online before they step on the lot.”

About the Author

Bill Meyer
Bill Meyer is the PR and Corporate Communications Lead for CU Direct.