A car dealership’s worst nightmare: A potential buyer wondering around the car lot who is afraid to talk to a sales representative or who shops on a day the dealership is closed.

How does a dealership know that customer was even there? How does the dealership know which cars he/she looked at? How many cars he/she looked at? How does that dealership communicate its available incentives?

A customer’s worst nightmare: An over-eager sales representative, following him around the car lot or an ad in a newspaper showcasing a specific incentive or vehicle without further details on similar cars available on the lot.

How can that customer browse a dealership and involve a sales representative when he wants to — and not before? How can that customer keep track of cars she’s looked at on a Sunday or when the dealership isn’t open for business? How can he/she get background information on a used car?

Gannett’s Scan & Drive turns these negative situations into positives. The goal of the programme is two-fold:

  1. To engage consumers while they are car shopping by providing an easy way for them to get vehicle information 24/7.

  2. To provide dealerships an easy and effective way to increase consideration, an opportunity to generate leads, and to drastically improve and shorten the sales cycle.

Gannett went live with the programme in early 2011. Leading up to its release, we had noticed mobile usage on the upswing. Through talking to our auto dealers, we’d found that fewer and fewer people want to engage with sales representatives or pre-contact at a dealership.

Consumers, however, want to explore a dealer’s lot — and often do so without leaving a trace. Sometimes, a sales representative may walk up to a consumer, offering help. The customer answers, “I am just looking.”

In many states in the United States, “blue laws” do not allow auto dealerships to sell cars on Sundays, yet many potential buyers browse the open lots. Prior to the Scan & Drive programme, there was no way to track such activity.

As I thought through this challenge, I focused on the fact that consumers have their phones with them … all the time. Back in 2011, QR code technology was starting to peak, and we continue to see steady usage.

As we began the process of in-house concept creation, we asked this question: What if we could accomplish two goals?

  • From a consumer’s perspective: Every vehicle has a unique QR code, which a consumer can scan with a smartphone to get all the details on that vehicle, including incentives, Carfax if the vehicle is previously owned, similar vehicles available on the lot, and other critical shopping information.

  • From a dealership’s perspective: Data on what cars customers are looking at, what time of day, how many times, how many unique people use the Scan & Drive platform in a given month, what vehicles are driving the most consideration on my lot.

The answer? Yes.

Gannett has 82 markets in the United States. We started the model by focusing our energies on our top 35 markets.

Scan & Drive offers the following for dealerships:

  • On-the-lot lead captures.

  • SMS scan and lead alerts.

  • Real-time reporting and metrics.

  • Assisted sales tracking.

  • Consumer behaviour insights reporting.

  • E-mail re-targeting campaigns.

For example, perhaps a consumer looks at an F-150 truck, then an F-250, then F-350. The dealership can follow that consumer. And while that consumer can still be anonymous (although there are opportunities to give more detailed information on the consumer’s terms), the dealer still gets a solid understanding of what vehicles on their lot that consumers are considering and how they are engaging with their media.

In addition, the dealerships are using their QR codes in print, direct mails, and other traditional mediums to track activities.

From a contractual standpoint, the dealer pays a monthly fee for the programme. Once they sign on, we walk them through a very simple launch. We can get them up and running, including the traditional media pieces, within five to seven business days.

Once their Scan & Drive platform is customised with their branding, look, and feel, we have an onboard call to train them on how to read the report and to make sure everything was included as agreed.

It’s a quick process and is just that simple, which is key.

It’s also an all-inclusive, painless process. We get a lot of praise from our dealer partners because of that.

Almost three years into the programme, dealers truly are benefitting from the insights the programme offers them. Some are using the information to re-organise their car lots or assist in which autos to feature.

They can see the level of activity on some car models that which may be at the back of the lot. Based on our data, they move them to the front.

Recently, I visited a dealership here in Indianapolis to see how the programme was working. I talked to one consumer using it. He was at the very back of the lot and had found a car, but had to walk all the way to the front of the lot to get a representative.

I literally just took his phone and showed the rep the cars the customer was interested in. If that customer had come in on a Sunday when the dealership wasn’t open, he could’ve done the same thing when he returned to the dealership on Monday.

The system is efficient for both the consumer and the dealer representative.

Tied into that efficiency is how the scanning programme is integrated into print. For example, a print ad for a dealership may feature the F-150 truck. A reader can scan the QR code and know how many similar trucks are on that lot for consideration and which ones he/she is interested in before even going to the lot.

We’re seeing a lot of engagement through the print facet of this programme, because the first thing that people want to know is what’s available, what’s the offer, what are the incentives, how many options are available.

We’re finding people don’t want to take the time to put down their newspaper to walk to their laptop. They already have their phone or tablet with them, so they’d rather use the platform that is readily available.

We’ve learned some things along this almost three-year journey.

  • From a reporting standpoint, we’ve exponentially grown the amount of information we can offer. Not only can we give dealerships benchmarks (scan activity, the number of unique visitors), we can also provide what after-hours activity they’re seeing at their lot.
  • We can create lists that track when vehicles were sold and whether they were connected to a scan activity or not. The consumer data available includes how many cars a consumer scans on a lot and how many cars they engaged or are considering before arriving at the dealership.
  • We try to put into data how Scan & Drive is helping them sell more vehicles faster.
  • From the consumer end, we offer more special offers. We now have a programme that allows them to enter their name and e-mail address to receive special promotions. We’ve added incentives to entice them to provide their contact information. Scan & Drive also offers great shopping tools, such as locations of similar vehicles.
  • Most importantly, we’ve learned that success depends on keeping implementation as simple as possible. You don’t want to create anything that’s cumbersome for the consumer or the dealer. Simplicity goes a long way when talking about mobile technology.

Today’s consumers are more transparent, and they want to engage in platforms that allow them to be more transparent. The real success behind Scan & Drive is embracing that transparency from both a consumer’s and a dealer’s perspective.

Scan & Drive gives dealers access to that transparency while still allowing the consumer their anonymity. Dealers can still get the information they want to understand consumer behavior and where they need to focus their energy.