Dealer using online pencilingMost independent dealers know that creating a trustworthy relationship with their customers is a key component to getting them to purchase a vehicle. But what dealers may not realize is that they don’t need to be face-to-face with the customer to start establishing that relationship. Knowing that the average time it takes to purchase a vehicle is 3 hours, it’s important to keep in mind that car buyer satisfaction starts to decline after the first 90 minutes a customer spends on your lot. Dealers can combat this dissatisfaction while jump-starting the buying process through digital retailing solutions like online penciling which can be done before the customer comes into the dealership.

While you’ve probably heard the term online or self-penciling, you might not know exactly what it is. Online penciling is the ability for car buyers to populate and modify information in an online payment calculator, providing them with more clarity into how factors like their down payment or credit score are going to impact their ability to purchase a vehicle. Essentially, online penciling will provide the customer with the right expectations on what type of vehicle they can afford, while also providing transparency into the buying process.

Research shows that when a car shopper sees a price online, they’re more likely to trust that number than one that comes from a piece of paper. Since 90 percent of customers are more interested in what their monthly payment is going to be versus the total cost of a vehicle, it’s important that incentives, offers, taxes and fees are built into the monthly payment they see in the calculation. This can also benefit the dealer because consumers are more likely to be honest with provided information like the condition of their trade in and credit score since they want to have an accurate assessment on whether or not they’ll be able to afford a vehicle.

When surveyed, car buyers said that one of the top pain points for them is negotiating the purchase or lease price of a vehicle. Not surprisingly, hashing out financial information is a contributing factor to the amount of time they spend at a dealership. When customers have access to an online calculator on a dealership’s website, they can look at specific vehicles and make adjustments to things like their down payment and loan term length, without having to work in person with your dealership’s financial office, making for a more efficient process . By providing them with a tool to start the sales process while they’re browsing inventory on your website, you’re creating a convenient experience for them while also setting yourself apart from your competitors.

While you may feel that tactics like online penciling are going to hinder the relationship you build with your customers, it can actually help strengthen it. Most customers are still going to want to come in to test drive the vehicle they want to purchase, so you can still spend plenty of face-to-face time with them. You’ve already laid the groundwork and developed trust with the customer helping to create a more streamlined and positive experience when they’re ready to sign on the dotted line.

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