Harness the Power of Digital Technology

Automotive News – Executive Insights, May 2024

There is no doubt that digital retailing in the automotive industry is here to stay. Yet many dealerships still struggle to smoothly adopt digital tools and provide a frictionless experience for customers. What can dealers do to ease the transition? And what benefits does digital retailing provide, for both dealers and customers? Here John Currado, President of taq Automotive Intelligence, provides some insights, including why it is important to offer customers a seamless car-buying experience that mimics what they have come to expect from other retailers.

Q: What has taq Automotive learned over the years that helps it design and implement digital systems?

John Currado: After processing hundreds of millions of automotive leads in North America, we have a firm understanding of how customers want to be engaged. More so, we know that when customers share their vehicle-buying plans, they do so with a high level of certainty. These attributes – customer engagement and customer intent – drove the design of our digital experience solution, which delivers a fundable deal, not just a lead. So much of the experience has to do with giving customers the autonomy to complete as much or as little of the financing journey as they want.

Q: Digital retailing is a hot topic in the auto industry today. What is most important to understand about this trend?

Currado: We like to think of it as digital enablement and it is here to stay. This digital path within our industry was born of consumers’ desire for a car-buying experience that mimics experiences they have in their other online journeys. Referring to it as a trend is somewhat misleading, as it indicates that it might be fleeting. But it is not a fad. It is going to be an institution and our business – our industry – is going to evolve along those lines.

Q: All this transformation presumably comes with benefits. What are the advantages of digital retailing for dealers and customers?

Currado: You need to put customers first and in doing that, it is going to benefit organizations as a whole. Customers should be able to do as much or as little online as they want or as much or as little as they want to do digitally – and those things are not necessarily the same. However, the experience should be a bit more bespoke to what consumers want. If we can provide optionality, we have a real ability to give customers an experience that will not just fulfill their needs, but will leave them with a positive impression that could lead to some level of customer sustainability. Accordingly, you want to translate a vehicle purchase into a long-term relationship with that customer. The benefits of extending that level of customer service goes beyond the transaction – retention, front end fulfillment, sustainability and a joyful customer experience. However, it starts with that initial touchpoint, and we believe that the advantage of digital retailing to level set that experience has staying power. The challenge is weaving in all those things that come after with purpose.

Q: How can a business prepare to meet customer expectations?

Currado: Team members or employees are responsible for adaptation, but so are the individuals running organizations – the dealer principals or the general sales managers. They need to empower their teams by providing the tools they need to be successful. At taq, we find solutions to manage that online to offline component, as there is always going to be one. The customer will always have some level of offline experience, whether it is in their driveway with someone handing over the keys to a vehicle or across the threshold of the dealership. The challenge for principals or a general manager is aligning online/offline components to deliver an exceptional customer experience.

Q: Becoming more digitally oriented obviously requires changing technology. What else must change
in terms of practices or behaviors?

Currado: Currently, consumers view the financing transaction as a bit archaic. This will persist until something changes. While I think selling products is a good thing, as customers need the ancillary products that dealers and automakers sell directly to consumers, we might want to consider giving customers more control over what they buy and when they buy, similar to their experience in other marketplaces. We can do this by allowing customers to self-select. Customers want the same buying experience that other markets provide, so finding a way to mimic that, while also providing the ability to upsell, could be a key to delivering that experience. It might require re-examining your business model and asking questions like how much you want to sell, do you want to let customers self-select and if you are afraid of the self-select model, why? That, in itself, might be a behavior that needs to change. Perhaps the $2,000 home-run sale goes away, but maybe you instead sell more $300 options more often. I do not have the answers, but I do see changes coming that will impact every facet of the industry. It is critical that we adapt to those changes, or we will be left behind.

Q: Digital retailing has transformed the auto industry in ways we could have never imagined. What about the future?

Currado: There is no doubt that digital retailing has played a significant role in the evolution of our industry. While early adopters jumped in to lay a foundation, they learned very quickly that they had to do more than just produce digital sales leads. Today, pockets and pieces of the process exist, but they are not interconnected. And if we compare automotive digital retailing with other industries’ robust end-to-end processes, we are not quite there yet. When all those components come together in a reimagined way, that is when we will see the real transformation take place.


John Currado, President, taq Automotive Intelligence

With more than 25 years in the financial lending business, along with his intimate knowledge of the automotive space, Currado is well positioned to lead his team to deliver on taq’s strategy of modernizing the automotive retail experience through digital transformation.