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Ford rolls out dealership iPad app

New Jersey Ford dealer Rich Savino plans to get rid of all 20 personal computers on his sales consultants’ desks by Oct. 1. To replace them, Savino has ordered an Apple iPad for each manager and sales consultant at All American Ford of Old Bridge, N.J., about 40 miles southwest of New York City.

“I see no benefit to the PC versus the iPad. The PC is over,” Savino says. “It’s just not relationship friendly. It’s a wall sitting between you and the customer.” All American Ford was one of 14 dealerships participating in a six-month Ford Motor Co. pilot program to test an iPad application called the Showcase App in dealership sales departments. The store’s 20 sales consultants shared six iPads during the pilot, which made a believer of Savino — and Ford.

Ford launched a nationwide iPad program on Aug. 1. About 140 of the automaker’s roughly 3,300 dealerships have signed up so far, says Michelle Moody, Ford technology communications manager. Ford says the optional application is linked to Ford’s ordering and sales reporting systems. “This makes the sales consultant’s life a lot easier,” Moody says.

Ford CEO Alan Mulally, an Apple fan, has pushed for using technology to improve the sales process, she says. The app was developed by Razorfish, a digital marketing agency, in cooperation with Ford Direct, a service jointly set up and owned by Ford and its dealers to help dealers create an online presence. The Showcase App can help sales staffers in several areas. It has some short, Web-based instructional videos explaining new technology in Ford and Lincoln vehicles, such as the MyFord Touch infotainment system, Sync voice recognition and Park Assist. The app also has a list of vehicles the dealership has in stock including packages, features and window stickers.

Use of tablets such as the iPad is growing among dealerships. Sonic Automotive Inc., the nation’s third-largest dealership group, is using iPads in its service departments, for instance, and has reported that grosses per repair order have increased as a result. The iPads will cost Savino about $400 apiece. That might seem costly, but Savino believes the iPads are worth it. PCs are expensive and are prone to viruses and glitches, he says. “I’ve got an IT guy here almost full time checking out” whether the PCs are slowing down or have a virus, he says. “You pay $400 to $800 for a PC that gets a virus and you have to throw them in the trash and buy another one. IPads seem to be virus-free.”

During the pilot, Savino was impressed by how the app helped his salespeople clearly present technology features to customers. “For me to expect that 20 of my salespeople could deliver a state-of-the-art demonstration, I’d be kidding myself. Some would be good, some would be OK, some would be bad,” he says. “For a customer to watch a professional do a flawless presentation of that option really helped them make an informed decision about what options they wanted and didn’t want.” His salespeople also share the iPad with customers and walk around the lot, looking at different vehicles.

The iPad also helps salespeople track customer preferences. Sales consultants can compile lists of preferences, keep a list of vehicles for a customer or note that a customer plans to return to the dealership Thursday with his wife. Savino foresees future possibilities. “It’s got to be expanded into a pricing tool,” he says. Currently, “it doesn’t have the ability to calculate the payments, save it and print contracts.” That day is still some way off. But, says Savino: “Everything is going to come to an iPad.”

 

Originally posted by Bradford Wernle of Automotive News on August 13, 2012

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