The Future of Retailing is Here

Though still in pilot testing, SmartPath is delivering on the promise of a seamless transition from online shopping to in-dealership buying

September 12, 2019
A Lot to Like -- One of the great benefits of SmartPath is its mobility. White River Toyota upgraded its WiFi service so that the iPad app can be used on the dealership's new-vehicle lot.
 

At the 2014 National Dealer Meeting, Toyota said it was committed to embracing the internet to fundamentally transform the way its dealers sell and customers buy vehicles. Five years later, that hoped-for future has become a very real present.

 
And its name is SmartPath.
 
Seven dealerships are currently pilot testing this ambitious yet also fully functional system. That includes White River Toyota that’s been on board since May.
 
“We were just about to move forward with a similar approach using our own tools when Toyota shared their plans,” says Jason Quenneville, general manager of the White River Junction, Vermont, store. “I was practically drooling on myself as I sat through the presentation.”
 
Quenneville says his sales consultants and customers are loving it, too. And why not?
 
SmartPath allows a customer to do as much as they want, where they want, in the shopping process — from searching for a specific vehicle at a specific price online, to estimating payments, to evaluating their trade, and more. Then, when they come to the showroom to finalize the deal, they can pick up exactly where they left off at home — collaborating with the sales consultant with the aid of the Mobile Sales Tool app on an iPad.
 
More Transparency -- With SmartPath, the sales consultant and customer collaborate more and negotiate less -- making for a better experience for all concerned.

A Bottom Up Solution
 
The key to it all is making the transition from the virtual world of clicks to the real world of bricks completely seamless. Other automakers have tried to deliver on this promise by building systems from the top down. Toyota, by contrast, developed SmartPath in close partnership with its dealers. So it’s a solution that’s emerged far more from the bottom up.
 
“The vision is simple. But delivering on it is very difficult,” says Tim Bliss, general manager of Retail Transformation for TMNA. “Behind every feature is a technical component that requires a tremendous amount of integration with our dealers’ DMS, CRM, and website providers. It’s incredibly complex but necessary to provide that seamless experience today’s consumers demand.”
 
Fortunately, from the sales consultants’ and customers’ perspectives, SmartPath is incredibly straightforward.
 
“The customer can build the deal how they want it,” says Quenneville. “I’m talking about an actual vehicle on our lot. We give them an exact price that they can run through a finance estimator that’s accurate to the penny. Then, if they want, they can submit an online credit app to Toyota Financial Services. They can get a trade-in evaluation from Kelley Blue Book. They can save everything to their digital garage. And it all gets sent to us. That makes for a very robust lead.”
 
At the dealership, the sales consultant can retrieve all of this information via the app. Then, together with the customer, they can continue down a path that more often than not ends with an owner driving off the lot in their shiny new Toyota.
 
“When you’re selling cars, the best thing you can do is get all of the key numbers to the customer as fast as possible — and the SmartPath app can do it in seconds,” says Sales Manager Bill Severance. “The sales consultant doesn’t have to run to a manager for anything, including F&I. They can stay with the customer from start to finish. That makes their job easier, which makes them happier. And that makes the experience for the customer better.”
 
iPad Powered -- The intersection point of the customer, sales consultant and the vehicle in question is the SmartPath Mobile Sales Tool app. All of the pertinent details of the deal can be accessed simply by touching the screen.

More Trust, Less Negotiation
 
Bliss says SmartPath’s enhanced speed and transparency can help foster a feeling of trust that, in the testing phase, has led to nearly half of all such customers purchasing the vehicle without negotiating the originally provided dealer price. Instead, the focus shifts to how the deal is structured, which the customer can reconfigure as desired directly on the iPad with the sales consultant’s guidance.
 
All of these benefits may require some investment by dealers in such things as beefed up Wi-Fi coverage on the sales lot as well as iPads and process training for their sales team. But Quenneville, for one, has no doubt it’s well worth it.
 
“The learning curve is not that steep,” he says. “There’s no way we’d ever go back. Customers today value time over money. We have to make this shift or we will lose business to someone like an Amazon who will. It feels really good to go home at night knowing that we’re ahead of the game, doing things the right way.”

By Dan Miller

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