This was before the pandemic accelerated the use of technology for brands and dealerships. Now, VanDyke said, he has the chance to work on a larger scale with more dealerships and brands and move forward on a “truly unique opportunity” to improve the customer experience.
VanDyke, 50, spoke with journalist Lindsay VanHulle. Here are edited excerpts.
Q: What attracted you to Shift Digital?
A: Shift is a 14-year-old company that has grown significantly over the years to approximately 700 employees, and Shift provides digital marketing services for brands, OEMs and [thousands of] dealers. In recent years, it has expanded into other verticals, such as motorcycles, powersports and boats.
We help brands and retailers with digital marketing and the platforms we support, provide analytics and shopper insights, so retailers and brands can use us to help independently measure their partners, like websites and digital advertising providers. And it gives dealers and brands transparency into the performance and effectiveness of what they’re doing to drive their business forward.
What did you learn from your time at Ford?
It’s such an exciting time to be a part of the automotive industry, as there is so much growth and change in the retail environment. This is changing so rapidly with the changing media environment and demand acquisition, online tools, and changing sales process. I learned so much from Ford and Lincoln dealerships about growth and development opportunities. Also, really, the opportunities of the changing dynamics in the industry with the evolution of EVs.
What digital trends are having the biggest impact on the industry?
It’s in the digital retail arena because customer preferences are changing. My dad would never buy a car online, but my kids are definitely comfortable with it. This has been an extremely difficult vertical for e-commerce to break into.
It took many years for the ecosystem and digital toolset to catch up with what customers wanted online simplicity, and it’s an ever-evolving process.
The most important thing that people are probably not talking about right now is how these online tools really fit into the customer experience process at the dealership. Because for the most part, the vast majority of customers don’t want to just start and finish something in one online session. They go in and out of the experience. There is a high degree of human interaction with the dealers. And creating that – call it an in-dealership experience that complements what customers want to do with a set of digital tools – that’s where there’s real opportunity for magic and progress to be made.
What makes it a great opportunity?
It’s really disjointed. When dealerships haven’t trained their staff on how these tools work, how they can seamlessly adapt and move the process forward, customers are often frustrated. And they don’t want to start over, and they don’t want someone to sell them something else, and they don’t want someone to take them down a traditional path from years ago. They are really looking for someone to help them navigate this new environment which should ultimately save them some time.
Who owns the opportunity? Sellers? Dealers? Automakers?
It’s just absolutely out of the three. What brands are realizing is that they have to partner with dealerships because there are so many things they need to agree on. In its simplest form, when it comes to a franchised dealer network, it’s dealer inventory, and it’s the dealers who set the final prices. So what really needs to happen is that dealerships and brands need technologies and tools that answer the complex questions, but then they need to agree on what makes sense for their brand.
How does a company like Shift Digital help navigate between what brands want and what dealers want?
Whether [consumers] are on a certain website platform, clicking on a digital retail tool, and then that goes into a black hole for resellers or brands in terms of what’s going on with those customer analytics, they’re not not in a good position. So what Shift can really help do is provide dealers and brands with information on what’s happening on the dealer website platform and how they integrate with chat that may be from multiple vendors and digital retail tools that may be from multiple vendors. So we really help to allow choice and flexibility.
Shift Digital experienced a data breach last year that affected Volkswagen and Audi dealerships. This predates your time at Shift, but can you tell us how the company focuses on data security?
Shift views data security and privacy as the most important thing we do. It’s absolutely mission critical. When the issue arose, Shift worked with the affected customer and each of their partners to explain what the situation was, and since then have gone even further. Redoubled all data security initiatives, processes and assessments. It is certainly something that, entering the company, I wanted to understand. And I have very high confidence that Shift has handled this in a very, very appropriate way and is staying vigilant about it.