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How To Improve Your Online Trade Appraisal Process

Lee Michaelson
Written By: Lee Michaelson
Posted on June 08, 2020

“Hold your car up to the phone, sir.”

If you have been in the business long enough, you remember when we made comments like this to customers who wanted phone appraisals. We were witty back then when a customer wanted the ol’ sight unseen trade appraisal. Today, however, things have changed. As the technology around us becomes more robust, the way we conduct business has evolved. Now, in the COVID-19 environment, we need to evolve once again to run our businesses professionally online while mastering a touchless, frictionless appraisal process. If this is something your dealership is struggling with, I have a few insights that will help you get the ball rolling.

#1 Capture an Interested Customer

The old school way of taking phone appraisals is dead, but that doesn’t mean phone appraisals have gone the direction of the Oldsmobile. Today, we can efficiently conduct phone appraisals as long as the buyer has a smartphone with a camera and/or video capabilities. Luckily, most customers have this technology in their pockets.

It’s important to remember that inbound customers should be easy sales. You have a great chance to sell to these customers, as they have already narrowed their choices prior to reaching out to you, and you have made it to the top of their shopping list. The key to closing these deals is to make it easy and the experience convenient for the customer. Eliminate the headaches and roadblocks in their way, and there’s a good chance you’ll sell a car.

#2 Develop a Process and Set Expectations

Customers are conditioned to seek out the information you have provided about your car online. At the very least, buyers expect to see:

  • Multiple high-quality pictures of the interior and exterior
  • Possibly a video recapping the vehicle and features
  • Equipment list of standard and add-on features
  • A CARFAX report, or similar vehicle history summary
  • A compelling, concise description that highlights what makes this unit unique

Use this level of detail to your advantage! Let’s say the customer insists you provide an appraisal of their car before they come to the dealership. First, respond professionally and tell them you have a process for this situation. In order to give out an appraisal, you need all of the documentation completed. At a minimum, they need to provide six–eight pictures and a completed appraisal form. Explain that you will run a CARFAX or another similar vehicle history report on their vehicle, and once that is completed, you will provide them with an accurate appraisal.

Bonus Tip: If they claim to want top dollar, encourage them to set up a FaceTime presentation, or submit a video of the vehicle.

#3 Recommended Online Trade Appraisal Process

If your current online trade appraisal process needs some work, or if you don’t have one at all, then here are a few key steps to include. I have seen these steps work for many different dealers in a variety of unique markets.

  • Make a PDF of your appraisal document and have it available for all appropriate team members to email or text to a customer. This is an excellent tool for qualifying the customer, and it also hooks the customer by directly engaging them in the appraisal process. Communicating and providing the document up-front will start to build creditability in the evaluation, lower the client’s expectations of the trade price, and help build rapport between the salesperson or BDC Representative and the customer. Additionally, you’re getting helpful answers to many questions before the deal is even started!
  • Have the customer complete the entire document. It may not surprise you, but many customers won’t complete all of the required fields, including disclosure about the odometer, accidents, body damage/work, and any mechanical deficiencies that require reconditioning. Make sure your team reviews the document completely for any omitted information, as it has the potential to cost you in the long run. Make sure to have the customer sign the document before they scan it (the camera app on their phone will work) and return it to you.
  • Detail the necessary reconditioning and its cost on every appraisal. This step is crucial to justify your appraisal and help your team feel confident in the prices they are quoting to customers. Use current market pricing (available online) to validate your appraisal. Inform the customer that your appraisal is firm and is based on the document they submitted to you, subject to driving and inspecting the vehicle. This is a similar process they will likely want for the vehicle they plan to purchase from you, and is a great talking point to bring up if needed.
  • Upon arrival at the dealership, every appraisal should get a trade walk around with the customer, 100% of the time. Profit can be improved if the evaluation of damage and missing parts is correct. Likewise, customer satisfaction can be improved as a result of clear communication and a transparent process.
  • Define follow-up responsibility in case of missing parts. We all know how costly and frustrating missing parts can be (needing a second key, for example). You can also reduce stock days by completing the vehicle trade-in process early, as this gives your team more time to get ready to turn the trade-in around.

Most of our retail customers enjoy the easy satisfaction and quick turnaround of online shopping. Although there will always be a necessary in-person component when trading in a vehicle, by creating a simple online trade appraisal process, you can capitalize on consumer’s digital habits and gain new customers. In our current environment, think about how many more cars you would sell if you adopted this process.

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