Car supermarkets are a step backward

When it comes to vehicle sales and F&I, the online world seems to be the space the industry is itching to grasp. But apparently for some retailers, physical dealerships are the aspiration.

Chinese retailer Suning has launched a car supermarket in Nanjing, China, where customers browse vehicles from many makes in one place. The retailer is "aiming to break the mold of single-brand dealerships," Liu Donghao, head of Suning's automotive business section, told ShanghaiDaily.com.

The future of vehicle retail and F&I could take a variety of forms, but another type of brick-and-mortar store would be an unexpected route.

The auto industry, which some analysts say is already behind the digital curve, would be taking steps backward if it chose to focus on car supermarkets over advancements toward online transactions.

After all, isn't a car supermarket, where the benefit is experiencing many brands at once, strikingly similar to the online shopping process, where customers can compare models along with pricing?

The brick-and-mortar stores are probably best left to traditional dealers who have manufacturer relationships. But as the push toward digital retail and F&I strengthens, who knows how the landscape will shape up?

You can reach Hannah Lutz at hlutz@crain.com

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