The long-standing promise of a paperless society remains elusive. But two Audi dealerships in Florida are taking a small step in that direction — and at the same time, streamlining the sales process and improving efficiency — by replacing vehicles’ handwritten price tags with sleek-looking digital displays.
With used-vehicle values depreciating daily, dealerships closely monitor local market conditions and seek to price inventory to sell quickly. But updating prices so a car or truck doesn’t languish on the lot for 60 or 120 days has been tedious and time-consuming.
Since December, Audi Coral Springs and Audi Fort Lauderdale, owned by Qvale Auto Group of West Palm Beach, Fla., have been using a cloud-based digital platform that enables them to change vehicle prices with the touch of a button.
The digital price tags, developed by wireless technology provider Altierre Corp., have been a game changer for the dealerships and their customers, said Bret Macy, general manager of the stores.
The main benefit: Prices on vehicles at the dealerships now match the prices consumers see on the dealerships’ websites. The ability to instantly change all the price tags in both showrooms and on both new- and used-car lots also saves untold hours of labor.
In addition, the digital tags enhance the dealerships’ image as modern, progressive operations and early adopters of cutting-edge, consumer-friendly technology, Macy said.
“It offers a ‘wow’ factor,” Macy told Automotive News. “When customers see rows of inventory, with cars arranged by color and MSRP and every car has a white digital box that displays the most up-to-date pricing right there, it’s pretty impressive.
“It’s way better than most dealerships, where it seems like the person with the worst handwriting fills out the hangtags,” he said. “It looks like a third-grader did them.”
While image counts for a lot, the dealerships primarily adopted the technology to support their policy of one-price, no-haggle shopping.
“Before, there was a disconnect,” Macy said. “Customers would do research online and find an attractive price for a car they want. Then they’d come to the dealership and get thrown back into the old sales process where you start negotiating because the price isn’t the same as it was online or it’s not clearly marked on the car.
“So then the customer thinks they can negotiate a better price and that starts a negative confrontation,” he said. “But when the same price the customer saw online also is clearly marked on a vehicle, it takes a lot of time out of the transaction. It’s helped us cut the transaction time down to 1 or 11/2 hours. How much time customers want to spend here after that to learn about the car is up to them.”
Before the dealerships invested in the Altierre system, it was difficult to frequently change price tags on the hundreds of vehicles at both dealerships. Macy said it would be a full-time job to change price tags on vehicles every time a market-price adjustment occurred.
But now the dealerships can easily adjust to market pricing on a days-in-stock basis or quickly change prices to reflect a special sales event — even on short notice. “It gives us much more capability and flexibility,” he said.
“We review our inventory twice a week and now can do smaller price changes on a daily basis.”
Andrew Litynskyj, vice president of sales for Altierre, said about 120 dealerships nationwide are using the weatherproof digital tags. He said the company had developed the technology for big-box retailers and other sectors and migrated it to the auto industry within the last 18 months or so. The technology reflects consumers’ preference for a fast, Amazon-like shopping experience, he said.
“The pain point for dealerships is the inability to portray an accurate price to customers at the point of sale,” he said. “When a customer shows up on a lot and a vehicle’s price is different than it was on the Web — or worse yet, there is no price — it’s kind of a mystery. So you create a little bit of an adversarial, haggling environment. And that’s not how consumers want to buy vehicles these days.”
Macy said the Altierre system is easy to use. In a nutshell, a sales manager first consults the dealership’s inventory and pricing software, such as Conquest or vAuto, to determine the most up-to-date, competitive prices for the store’s vehicles. Then the manager manually inputs any required price changes and hits a “submit” button, which transmits the new prices to the digital tags. “It’s all done from the sales manager’s desk,” Macy said. “You can change a bunch of car prices at one time or just one at a time.”
Data are not transmitted via a dealership’s wireless Internet, but via proprietary Altierre “access points,” or devices similar to wireless routers. Three devices usually are sufficient for an average-size dealership, but larger car lots may require more units, Litynskyj said.
The two dealerships, which together sold 2,463 new and 957 used vehicles in 2017, pay a total of about $7,000 a month to lease about 800 digital tags. That price includes the cloud-based software, Macy said.
It’s difficult to determine whether the technology pays for itself through increased sales and profitability. But Macy believes one thing is certain: As consumers increasingly demand more transparency and better consistency in vehicle pricing, dealerships that have embraced the digital-pricing technology will benefit in the long run.
“As the culture changes and consumers learn, dealers that already have adopted this technology are going to see the sales increases,” he said. “Customers already tell us that they love it, both in person and in online reviews. It’s helping us create a premium shopping experience for our customers by being more upfront and transparent about pricing. That’s really what you’re investing in — a better car-buying experience.”