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Tackling Inventory Shortages and Changing Consumer Behavior with Jamie Kent

Jamie Kent

Jamie Kent is an Executive Director at Shift Digital, where he leads one of the largest OEM programs for North America for certified automotive dealer websites and consumer engagement tools. He also leads upcoming emerging technology providers.

Jamie is an experienced automotive software and digital marketing executive with over 15 years of industry experience. He has held executive leadership positions with companies ranging from small, privately-held to large, publicly-traded organizations. He was the Senior Director of Market Performance - Independent Dealer Solutions at Dealertrack and the Executive Vice President & COO of ClickMotive before joining Shift Digital.

Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • How Jamie Kent entered the automotive industry

  • The innovations Jamie expects to see in the automotive software space

  • How inventory shortages have been affecting sales and what dealers can do to manage the problem

  • What should dealerships do to attract more customers and build brand loyalty?

  • The main challenges dealers are likely to face in the next year as consumer habits and digital retailing continue to change

  • Hyundai's new partnership with Amazon

In this episode…

Without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of digital retailing by many dealerships, leading them to view it as a necessity in a fast-changing world. The pandemic has also led to inventory shortages for many dealerships who now have to wait for a longer time to receive cars, and this has greatly affected sales, the sales cycle, and how salespeople interact with potential customers.

Because of this, dealerships have been forced to get creative in handling the inventory shortage problem. Some have resorted to marketing and selling cars online on a pre-order basis even before the units arrive at their showrooms. Consumer shopping habits and expectations have also changed during this period, and all these factors will affect dealerships' future sales.

In this episode of the InsideAuto Podcast, Ilana Shabtay interviews Jamie Kent, an Executive Director at Shift Digital, about tackling inventory shortages and changing consumer behavior in the automotive industry. They discuss how these changes have been affecting the normal sales cycle, how they have impacted communication with customers, and the main challenges dealerships will face when the shipping problems are over. Stay tuned.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode...

This episode is brought to you by AutoLeadStar, a company that helps car dealerships engage quality customers on the web and convert them into car buyers.

Co-founded by Aharon Horwitz, Yishai Goldstein, and Eliav Moshe, AutoLeadStar’s state-of-the-art software automates a dealership’s entire marketing funnel and provides around-the-clock service for dealers.

AutoLeadStar’s innovative technology helps dealerships automate ads, connect with customers, and discover ROI and performance metrics

Visit their website at to learn more about their around-the-clock marketing service.

Episode Transcript

Intro 0:03

Welcome to InsideAuto Podcast, where we feature everyone and anyone you'd want to talk to you in and out of the automotive industry.

Ilana Shabtay 0:14

Ilana Shabtay here, host of the InsideAuto Podcast where we interview top dealers, GMs, marketers, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders in and out of the automotive industry. Unfortunately, my co-host Aharon Horwitz, also CEO of AutoLeadStar, can't make it to the podcast today because he's at Digital Dealer. If you are listening, you're a Digital Dealer, we're at booth 315. Stop by. But unfortunately, he couldn't make it. So our guest today is stuck with me, which hopefully will also be a good experience. But before we introduce today's guests, this episode is sponsored by The AutoLeadStar platform is built on a technology so powerful, it allows you to market, sell, and service cars as you would in the real world online and at scale, making one to one matches between shoppers and inventory. AutoLeadStar is the only platform that is powered by scale, speed, and specificity to change the way dealers do marketing today. Alright, today's guest, we have Jamie Kent, a very special guest. Jamie, it's so good to have you on the podcast with me today.

Jamie Kent 01:15

Thank you, Ilana. It's great to be here.

Ilana Shabtay 1:16

Yes. And before we start our discussion, which I'm very excited for. I'll give you a quick intro. Jamie is an experienced automotive software and digital marketing executive with over 15 years of industry experience, which we're going to talk about because I must, you know, hear about what happened in the industry before I came in over 15 years of industry experience including a ton of different leadership positions. Currently, Jamie is an Executive Director at Shift Digital, where he leads one of the largest OEM programs for North America for certified automotive dealer websites and consumer engagement tools. And he leads OEM solutions as well as up and coming emerging technology providers. So he does a lot. We'll talk about that. But since you've been in industry for so long, I'd love to know, first of all, how you got into automotive. It's a podcast tradition, we love hearing the stories, sometimes they're like the craziest stories in the world. Sometimes it's also interesting if it's just that you came from an automotive family, but we'd love to hear it. And then some of the biggest changes you've seen over the 15 years that you've been part of the industry.

Jamie Kent 2:21

Yeah, for sure. Happy to happy to kind of give a little bit of my background and everything. I really appreciate it. Thank you for the opportunity to be here again, looking forward to this conversation today. But as far as my background, yeah, so over 15 years now in automotive software and digital marketing and, and I just kind of fell into this industry and my wife to this day still jokes with me a little bit that before, you know, 15 years ago, I really didn't. She says that the two things I could have cared less about in the world were cars and the internet. I didn't know. Yeah. And it was one of those things that at the time, the way I fell into this industry, I was actually working for a recruiting firm placing accounting and finance personnel. And I placed a bookkeeper at a very small automotive software startup, the time was coming to call click motive. And they became my client, because I placed that bookkeeper out there. And so I started visiting them checking up on how the client was going and then the CEO of that company and I struck up a good relationship and I was just doing my due diligence of well, you don't tell me what kind of personnel are you looking for at this company just trying to kind of fish for future leads and you're looking for somebody just like you.

Ilana Shabtay 3:35

This is my last question. I think that's an awesome story.

Jamie Kent 3:38

Absolutely. So they brought me on board was employee number five at the time click motive was a startup digital marketing firm. So it was just google ads was just getting off the ground back then and called 15 years ago, and it was really new to the automotive space and, you know, started there, grew it up, grew it up over the next call it six seven years, and we converted from sem digital marketing to a full website full service digital agency platform. We grew that I was very very fortunate that the founders of click motive were industry veterans. Great guys sewer Lloyd Ray Meyers got to give them a quick shout out for this long standing Career Career that I've created here. And in 2012, we sold click motive to Dealertrack Technologies. So we came kind of embedded within a larger portfolio business with with certainly the f&i, the DMS side of the business, all kinds of other aspects of automotive software, which was really my education then going from just digital marketing to the full gamut of what can be offered to dealers from a software technology perspective. I ran the website division for a little while, and then we made a big splash back in I guess 2013 or so when we acquire, the largest player in the space at that time, and at which point I moved into more of a role focusing on the strategy of Dealertrack and all of our top technologies specifically to the independent dealer space. So I was out of franchise and then moved into independent dealers, and really learned a lot more about again, the whole platform of what dealertrack had to offer from compliance. f&i products did the DMS, inventory management solutions, and how that all fits together all that ties together. So that, to me really helped round out my experience. I did that for a few years. Then Cox Automotive acquired Dealertrack. At that point, just for me, personally, I always like being with the smaller companies and the more entrepreneurial environment, nothing against Cox Automotive or anything. They're a great company, they do a lot of great things in this space. But I kind of branched out on my own, started doing some consulting for a few years. And then here, I guess now it's coming up on three years ago, the folks over at Shift Digital and I connected, they were launching a new OEM program and asked if I would come on board and help run it. And that's what puts me in my position today where you call it right. I'm the executive director of one of our OEM programs here for Shift Digital.

Ilana Shabtay 6:00

Wow. So you've and you've actually gone from, like, fifth employee at a small startup to being acquired to a bigger company being kind of your go to cost automotive. I mean, you've really seen it all. So you're probably the perfect person to be managing that program. So that's really exciting for you. And congratulations on that. I know it's been a while. But that's, that's really exciting now because you've seen it all. And we're giving you all this credit now so you gotta you got to tell you got to tell it like it is. But what kind of innovation Do you expect from the automotive software industry in the next, let's say, 12 to 18 years, and I know we've seen a huge amount of innovation just you know, accelerated by the pandemic, but I think it's gonna keep going at this pace. So I'd love to know what you think and what your predictions are. For sure,

Jamie Kent 6:47

you know, I don't know if I can look into 1215 1218 years into the future, but 1218 months, I could probably maybe give you the

Ilana Shabtay 6:55

apologies, if I said 12 to 18. I mean, 12 to 18 years, I wouldn't put it past you. But yes, 12 to 18 months, thank you

Jamie Kent 7:02

the flying cars. No, so I would say over the next couple of years, for sure. In the pandemic, and a lot of ways it really highlighted the need. And it's really accelerated the adoption of digital retailing. Digital retailing has been a kind of a buzzword and a terminology that's been out there for a while and the idea of taking the in store, buying process, the retailing process and moving online. And while that has been gaining momentum and gaining steam over the last few years, the pandemic really accelerated that. And we've seen that really across the board, dealer adoption of digital retailing tools has really gone up significantly. And now as we move forward, I think we're really going to continue to see that evolve, we're going to continue to see, I think deeper integrations, whether it's with parts, or with accessories with OEM data feeds, with other tools and services, such as seeing chat or video being incorporated into digital retailing. We're really, and I don't want to be a broken record here. But I do think that digital retailing and the evolution of digital retailing, is going to be probably the leading innovative factor moving forward over the next 12 to 18 months. Beyond that, I think we're also seeing, you know, certainly, dealerships and OEMs are getting creative, particularly as it relates now to the inventory shortage. And that's bringing to the forefront a lot of different ways to, again, get creative around merchandising vehicles, we're seeing, you know, CGI photo options, coming out, vehicle hotspots, all kinds of things of incorporating whether it's in transit vehicles, in some cases, even allocated units, vehicles aren't even off the assembly line yet are getting incorporated into a dealer's website and digital marketing strategy or their digital retailing strategy. So all of those things are going to continue to evolve. It will be interesting to see how as we kind of come out of the pandemic, those inventory levels return, what things we take from from this very unique time and continue to innovate on moving forward.

Ilana Shabtay 9:06

And I think that's actually exactly what I was thinking when you were talking about that, because it's interesting to see how dealers have really learned and learned quickly, how do they keep revenue up without any inventory, and they're just pre ordering? I mean, there are like 100 cars that will come to our dealer clients, and every single car on the truck has been sold already, of course. So great question and great thing to think about. When inventories go back to regular levels, which they hopefully most soon. Is that still gonna be something that dealers prioritize? I don't know. I don't know if you have insight into that. But that's something I think I've been thinking about often.

Jamie Kent 9:43

Well, I think it is going to create a definite shift in how the entire process in the flow works. Consumers are going to get more comfortable with the ability to pre order, which is not something that particularly in the US is something that really happens all the time. So I think we're going to definitely see that continue to evolve, I think OEMs are going to be partnering a lot more closely with their dealerships. And I think you're gonna see an evolution, even from the tier one sites of incorporating potentially even more digital retailing aspects, from the tier one site all the way down to the individual dealer sites, that consumer experience is going to continue to evolve around, you know, not everyone's going to continue to preorder or anything like that. But I think we're gonna see significant advancements around how all of that is treated at the OEM, tier two, and even at the tier three dealership level. So it's really going to be exciting to see how that evolves.

Ilana Shabtay 10:38

Yeah, and I would also be interested in seeing if that's going to bring brand loyalty back up to the levels that it was, I don't know, maybe 10 years ago, because if there's a special commitment to a dealership, and you can preorder, and they don't have that inventory, maybe that will bring back some brand line. So we'll see, we'll have to come back on this podcast and like, you know, a year or two and see if your predictions are accurate.

Jamie Kent 10:59

Yeah, for sure. Well, I think you're hitting on a really important point here, as well as individual dealerships, particularly with inventory as low as it is, they're having to find, you know, other ways to attract and retain their customers. So the service side of the business is going to continue to play a key factor in that because right now, consumers are just, you know, it's funny, we went through an analysis recently, and the number one phrase across the industry right now in the world of chat. Well, you may know this. What do you think the number one phrase is right now in the world of chat?

Ilana Shabtay 11:37

Do you have this in stock?

Jamie Kent 11:40

Right, is this car available? Yeah. And so consumers get it they that just because they're seeing it on the website doesn't mean that that car is necessarily available and so they're, they're shopping around, they're looking for vehicles, or if they can find their vehicle that they're looking for, they're certainly willing to drive further for they're certainly willing to, to, to not just stay focused on that individual dealerships, right. It's gonna be an evolution for dealers, to really focus on customer service, customer retention, and finding other ways to get that consumer to remain loyal to that dealership, to your point, I think the brand loyalty will be there. But now dealerships, individual dealerships working very, very hard on, you know, staying in communication throughout that entire customer lifecycle, all the different CRM marketing options that are out there to stay in touch with your existing customers and trying to attract new customers, I think it's gonna become even more important than it already is.

Ilana Shabtay 12:33

Yeah, and I think one of the biggest challenges that the industry is going to face while doing that is the connected data connectivity, because you need to be able to have your data connected from website traffic, add try, you know, add activity, CRM activity in order to make that such a great experience for consumers and make sure that they keep coming back to you. And I think that's something that has been difficult for dealers over the past couple of years. So I would love to see more data connectivity to help dealers, you know, just get that brand loyalty and bring more shoppers in and continue conversations, relevant conversation conversations with shoppers. So that's my prediction for some of the challenges that dealers will see, do you What do you think it's gonna be, let's say, I don't know, the top challenge for dealers in the next year or so, especially as consumer habits change?

Jamie Kent 13:28

Yeah, no, that's a really great question. You know, a couple things. Obviously, the top challenge right now on everybody's mind is the inventory shortage. And what's being done about that? That's certainly something that everyone's continuing to work through. I think that if we looked a little bit further down the funnel or down the end of the crystal ball, if it will, what do we do when the inventory levels start to come back? Because right now, because of the inventory shortage, there are a couple other things that are going on that are also kind of current challenges. Hiring and retaining and training staff is a huge problem. And it's not just in the automotive industry. You know, the jobs reports came out today where I forgot what it was, but 4.3 million people left their jobs in August. It's unbelievable that every industry is being impacted. And the automotive industry is no different. And so I think part of the challenges that we're gonna have is that the inventory shortage is maybe kind of masking some of the potential pitfalls that dealers are going to run into with hiring, training and retaining their staff moving forward, because right now at a dealership because inventory levels are so low, you can kind of cherry pick whatever leads leads that are coming in if you have the car or you're going to sell it

Ilana Shabtay 14:52

Totally changed the game for dealers.

Jamie Kent 14:57

So what we're finding is viewers are, in some cases, picking up some bad habits when it comes to following up. As we look at response times, mystery shop scores, those types of things, we start to get a sense that, you know, unlike pre pandemic areas where where dealers are very, very good at following up their customers staying on top of it quick response times, those have all kind of dropped off a cliff. And the dealers are not necessarily following up their consumers, and it's not necessarily the best consumer experience. And so as inventory levels start to come back up, and it's starting to become more competitive to bring that consumer into your dealership or remain loyal. But at the same time, you've got new staff that isn't necessarily trained up as well as you might like. And I've also been picking up some bad habits, thinking that they're great salespeople, because they sell every lead that comes in not realizing that, okay, when we get out of this, it's not gonna work like that, and you're gonna have to actually, you know, have follow up follow through and those sorts of things. So, I think those are some challenges that are right around the corner, as inventory levels come back up, you know, future challenges. You know, we haven't really been touched on this too much, but continuing to evolve the online consumer experience. So there are challenges on a lot of the online retailers that are coming up, you know, the bruise and shift and, and some of those other ones that are out there, even Carvana have really pushed consumer expectations around what the online buying process can look like, what it should be like. And I think that's really gonna push dealers in the automotive industry even further in that direction. Things like the ability to do pick up and deliver in half, have the vehicle shipped right to your store, or right to your house, the ability to go through the entire buying process online, we know not everybody's going to want to go through the buying process online, some people still want to sit in that vehicle, you know, get that new car smell before they sign on the dotted line. But not everybody. How you merchandise, those vehicles, whether it's 360 spins, or vehicle hotspots are all kinds of different ways to ensure video, integrating video retailing. Those are all the types of things that dealers should be doing moving forward, as they face the challenges not only from getting out of the inventory shortages, the employees hiring challenges, but also some of those challenges around some of those third party online retailers.

Ilana Shabtay 17:24

Yeah, so many good things you said there. Just to go back to the first point, I think we don't talk about it enough that the sales people right now in dealerships have it. I wouldn't say easy, of course, but you know, the inventory shortage is really influencing the sales cycle. And you don't have to really do any follow up. And you don't necessarily you don't have to negotiate. If anything, you can, you know, be 10% 15% above MSRP, in some places, in some instances. So putting an emphasis on and just having that in the back of the mind, for dealers that are listening, for change that's going to come in how that's gonna affect staff, I think that's a really important point. So thank you for bringing that up. And I didn't want to fly past badly. And the second thing that you mentioned, I think, is also really important and just talking about how consumer behavior changes when companies like Carvana kind of challenged the way that dealers have their internet set up. And I know that you know, companies like yours, and others are putting in the infrastructure for dealers to create a nice user experience. And I think that's going to be absolutely critical to keeping consumers you know, close to dealers in the next couple of years. I actually just listened to a podcast by Paul Daley and I don't remember the name of the podcast but Paul Daley and Kyle came on here and they were talking about how Amazon just released a partnership with Hyundai. Did you hear about this?

Jamie Kent 18:52

A little bit, but I don't know too much about it.

Ilana Shabtay 18:56

I don't know too much about it either. I learned about it through this other podcast, but I didn't even play around with it. But they made a really important point. I think it's a good thing to talk about here, which is that it's like this beautiful experience on Amazon and like you can pick the colors and it's just like a really, really nice experience. And then when you click on the actual car, like the VIN that you're interested in, it takes you to the dealer website and then the consumers like well Oh crap, like I just went from like the most amazing experience to like I have to x out five things to understand what I'm looking at. So I think it's a good wake up call for dealers to look at that and you know, kind of understand the the dichotomy between the two experiences because at some point, we'll get there again, and I know you're you're innovating and helping on that front and I think it's a really important thing to for us to be doing as an industry.

Jamie Kent 19:44

I couldn't agree more. So you hit the nail on the head with it, the evolving consumer experience and looking to have a more of a tier one type shopping experience or more Amazon like for in some cases, you'll hear dealers and say even more of a Carvana like experience. Tesla is another good example of what that online experience is like, very clean, very simple. Consumers, you know, help walk the consumer through the process. And I think we're definitely starting to see that and seeing that more and more. The digital retailing tools are evolving that way the website providers are certainly evolving that right so it's gonna get there. I think that the understanding that the expectation of the consumer is to continue to look back and see something like an Amazon or even Apple what those shopping experiences are like, and compare that to the experience we're having on the dealer website. And so the more we can evolve in that direction, the better.

Ilana Shabtay 20:38

Yeah. 100% Well, thank you so much, Jamie, this is awesome. Getting to know I love when people come on the podcast from different backgrounds, especially the stories you can tell of how you ended up in automotive. I absolutely love it. And you really, you really have seen it all. So thank you for sharing with us some of your experiences. And again, we'll hold you to some of your predictions we'll see in like a year and a half what what, what's what's coming for the automotive industry. But seriously, thank you so much for joining. You're a wealth of knowledge and I appreciate you coming on the InsideAuto Podcast.

Jamie Kent 21:10

Again, thank you for the invitation. It was a great conversation. I really appreciate it. You know, thank you again. And best of luck to you guys. I really appreciate it.

Ilana Shabtay 21:17

Thank you and for listening to the InsideAuto Podcast. You can subscribe on all mainstream outlets; Apple, Spotify, I Heart, and That's where you can find it all. Thank you so much.

Outro 21:33

Thanks for listening to the InsideAuto Podcast. Check out our other episodes with top entrepreneurs and industry leaders.

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