AutoNation Debuts Loyalty Program

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AutoNation, Fort Lauderdale, FL, has launched its AutoRewards loyalty program designed to keep car purchasers in the company's family of dealerships, service stations and car rental companies.

The program is not being tested, but is being rolled out gradually on a national level. Currently the program is being offered in the Denver metropolitan area.

"We designed the program because 65 percent of car buyers don't go back to the same dealer," said Maria Bailey, vice president of AutoRewards at AutoNation. "Since we have so many different dealerships from Subaru to Porsche, we have the ability to offer car buyers the opportunity to keep coming back to us."

The program is being offered at the point of purchase of a new or used car and at the AutoNation service centers. It's also being supported through an extensive media campaign in Denver, as well as a direct mailing to previous AutoNation customers.

"It's out there to attract new customers," Bailey said. "We sell cars in a no-haggle environment and what this does is allow the customers to see the value of the program as well as the car. They could go down the street and haggle off $100 but they won't get the service we are offering."

The program has three levels. Each level offers service and parts along with free days of car rentals. AutoLife, the highest level, offers roadside assistance, and AutoNation employees will drive a car to where the stranded driver is and loan it to the driver to continue on with the trip while the employee waits for assistance.

"These are benefits I never heard of before [in the auto industry]," said Richard G. Barlow, president of Frequency Marketing Inc., Milford, OH, which was hired by AutoNation to assist in the design of the program. "In this case, the dealer has taken customer loyalty to a new level. What they are undertaking is to sink these loyalty hooks into their customers, which goes way beyond what other auto companies are doing."

Points are earned based on the purchase and rental of cars, the purchase of parts and referrals. The longer a customer keeps the points without redeeming the more valuable they become.

"It's like the points are earning interest," Bailey said. "We want our customers to purchase their next car from us, so if the owner of a Ford truck wants to buy a Chevy, he won't have to leave our family to do it."

As the program becomes a nationwide marketing campaign for the company, other features such as credit cards and links to hotels and airlines will be added. Bailey said the company has yet to determine if the rollout will be district-to-district or region-to-region.

"When we enter full rollout we will have upwards of 1 million customers," she said. "The biggest challenge was getting our 18 DAS systems and translating them into one database. However, when we fully roll out, our database will be able to tell us exactly what each customer's buying and servicing habits are, and we will be able to communicate with them on a level they expect."

Customers will receive a quarterly statement of their point accumulation and will also be able to track their points on the AutoNation Web site. Bailey said that with the purchase of a car, four visits to a service station in a year and three customer referrals, the highest level of the program can be achieved.

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