Appraising cars is not always the most appealing task at a dealership. After all, it involves walking round a vehicle with a piece of paper, painstakingly checking out the paintwork and examining the interior. The mileage needs to be recorded, scuffs or scrapes needs to be added to little diagrams and an appraiser needs to establish the correct specification or trim level of the vehicle they are looking at - not always easy.
And then, of course, that piece of paper has to be taken into the showroom while you sit at your desk and re-enter all the details into your DMS, maybe stick the car through some provenance checking software and wait for someone else to value it (unless you're qualified to do that yourself).
Basically, it's a pain. And to younger members of staff, and to many of your customers, it probably seems like a very old-fashioned way to operate.
Well, that's because it IS old-fashioned. But the task of appraising vehicles can be brought very rapidly up-to-date, and made quick, convenient and even enjoyable - simply by using a smartphone. All you need to do is use the software developed by AUTOi, on a phone or tablet you already have in your possession, and the process of appraising vehicles is instantly brought into the 21st Century.
AUTOi is proud to say that their Digital Vehicle Appraisal System puts detail, transparency and auditability into one of the most fundamental parts of automotive retailing. In a nutshell, their system allows dealerships to capture, store and share highly detailed appraisals anywhere, anytime through the use of iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, Android Smartphones and Android Tablets.
And they say that embracing this technology will provide your business with a professional system, accurately appraising any used car or part-exchange. This information can then be stored on AUTOi's server for access at any time.
Car Dealer recently caught up with the company's managing director, Sebastien Duval, who explained some of the other benefits of the system. He told us: ‘One of the key things that makes us a bit different from a lot of companies is that we build native applications - native to the devices they are running on. We build them for iOS - the Apple platform - and we build them for the Android platform.
‘We design them for both smartphones and tablets. By doing that, dealers have a smaller outlay on equipment when they use us and it means that virtually every member of a sales team, as well as the managers, has a device in their pocket that's capable of running our application to do an appraisal. This applies whether they're at the dealership, at an auction, or at a customer's house - as long as they have some kind of internet connection.
‘What we focus on is imagery. Lots of high-quality pictures of a car can be taken, and appraisers can do videos of up to two minutes in length with audio descriptions. The salesman or appraiser can actually go around the car and highlight any damage that's on it. Clear evidence of that nature avoids any discrepancies in describing a car.'
Duval explained that the system also incorporates electronic signatures so an appraiser and customer can both verify that an appraisal has been done properly. And AUTOi software can integrate with systems run by companies such as HPI, CAP and Glass's.
Duval said: ‘Whatever a dealer uses for data, for doing provenance checks or valuations, we can pull their existing account directly into AUTOi. ‘There are two parts to our system. The appraisal application is for anyone to use to
carry out the actual appraisal and capture all the imagery. This can then be uploaded to a dealership's online portal where anyone can log in. All the checks and valuations can be run from that.'
Although the AUTOi system is designed with dealership staff in mind, appraisals can be distributed to those outside the business. This level of functionality can come in handy if, for example, some work is required on a car, in which case an appraisal can be sent to a bodyshop.
Duval added: ‘The system also has an address book built into it. We have one dealer, for example, who has 10 different traders who take cars up to a value of £10,000. ‘So... a car comes in, it gets appraised, the sales manager values it, and at the click of a button, he can send it to that group of 10 trade buyers.'
If you're wondering how the AUTOi system might fit in with your current partners and suppliers, the answer is . . . very easily.
Duval told us: ‘We integrate with a variety of different manufacturer systems, DMS providers and CRM partners. One thing I'd like to stress is that we'll integrate with any third party. Ultimately the aim is to streamline the process as much as possible for dealers. It doesn't matter whether you're an independent, a franchised dealer or a car supermarket, our system can be used with any of them, really. They say that a picture paints 1,000 words, well, video does even more than that and we provide both in an application that's easy to download from the App Store. There's nothing complicated about it - it's just a question of going to the App Store and downloading it onto an existing device.'
Another great feature of the AUTOi system is that all user settings can be fully customisable by a dealership, allowing different levels of access for different members of staff.
And the system can also analyse a dealership's activity... in terms of what cars are most commonly bought; who in the business is doing the appraising; what various conversion rates are, and so on.
AUTOi is a young, vibrant outfit and the fact that it has relationships with some of the biggest players in the UK automotive arena shows that it is highly thought of. Although the company only employs a handful of people directly, it operates in partnership with HPI.
Duval explained: ‘We do all the software and HPI use their account managers to go round the country and provide demonstrations. They take care of the sales side of things for us.
‘And as more and more people hear about the benefits of our system, and realise what it can do for them, we're finding that more and more people are getting involved.'
The best way to judge the effectiveness and popularity of any system or piece of software is simply to find out who has decided to use it.
Sebastien Duval told us: ‘Currently, we do a lot of work with small independents. We have car supermarkets that use us. And we also work with a number of well-known dealer groups, such as Spire Automotive and HR Owen.The way in which Spire Automotive uses our system demonstrates its flexibility. They're a multi-franchise company, representing makes such as Mini, BMW, Audi and Peugeot. The Peugeot guy might deal on a Mini, for example. Information about that car can be made instantly available to all the Mini branches that are part of the Spire Group. That's quite a powerful feature of our system and helps to speed up stock turn.'
We asked about the levels of training and support available to dealers getting involved with AUTOi for the first time. Duval said: ‘Yes, we can deal with training and there's always someone to talk to. ‘Our system might sound complicated and it's packed with functionality but it's pretty easy when people get going with it - it's intuitive. We're all used to using smartphones and apps these days, after all. Another key point is that if a salesman is carrying out an appraisal electronically with a customer at a vehicle, it looks 10 times more professional than writing on a scrap of paper. It's a lot easier for a dealer to justify the price when the customer has seen that they have taken the time to take the video, do the photos and mark up the damage. It adds a lot of credibility to the whole process.'