Mercedes-Benz will make greater use of computer tablets as dealership selling tools.

In 2010, Mercedes-Benz Financial began distributing iPads to its 350 U.S. dealers, becoming the first brand to do so. Others have since followed. The latest is Ford.

Mercedes Financial initially gave finance and insurance managers the computer tablets to expedite financing, product presentations and the like.

Now, the firm is urging dealers to put the iPads in the hands of customers.

“We’ll use these technologies to give more information to customers even before they go into the F&I office,” says Christopher Weinig, who manages insurance programs for Mercedes Financial in the North and South America.

Vital to the dealership process is the “customer handover,” in which a salesperson introduces a customer to the F&I manager, he says. “It’s a process that could be improved upon.”

A way to do that is to make better use of the time a customer spends waiting to see the F&I manager.

“We’ll use that critical time more productively,” Weinig tells WardsAuto. “For instance, we can give the customer an iPad for him or her to watch a demonstration video on protection plans we offer as F&I products,” he says. “It would be more interactive than a website and allow the customer to self-navigate.”

The iPad could replace the need for the qualifying interview, at which the F&I manager typically asks questions to determine what aftermarket products might best suit a particular customer.

Instead of that conventional interview, the customer could use the iPad to answer questions on the screen.

“We’re pioneering different ways to prepare the customer early and put them in control,” Weinig says.

He also sees showroom staffers using computer tablets throughout their sales presentations. “The future trend is to use digital media more often and throughout the dealership. It has to be intuitive.”   

For Mercedes stores, vehicle-protection plans are hot F&I sellers. Those include wheel-and-tire replacements, paintless dent repairs and interior and exterior protection packages.

“These are products that keep the worries away,” Weinig says.

A windshield-replacement plan is another popular F&I product, he says, noting that Mercedes Financial prefers a program that replaces rather than repairs damaged windshields.

Says Weinig: “Windshields on our cars contain safety sensors and rain detectors that automatically activate wipers. We don’t want to compromise that technology, so we went with the replacement program.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com