At ADESA, the shift to digital is not sudden, Hammer said. "It's been growing over time."
It began in earnest when the company acquired the Openlane online auction platform in 2011 and is now being further fueled with TradeRev, a dealer-to-dealer sales platform that can be used through a desktop or mobile application. TradeRev, which ADESA bought half of in 2014 and the rest last year, is the company's fastest-growing business, Hammer said.
Another company looking to play disrupter and grab market share is ACV Auctions.
The Buffalo, N.Y., company, which hosts online auctions, was founded just three and a half years ago but has grown by leaps and bounds. Last month, 10,000 vehicles were sold through its online auctions, compared with 3,000 in October 2017, according to CEO George Chamoun.
ACV uses 40 to 60 high-resolution photos for each vehicle listing and considers itself a third-party inspection service that can give confidence to buyers. It has 470 employees, and 170 are in the field doing inspections.
Greater transparency around pricing and images emerged on the consumer side of retail sales and now has made its way to the wholesale and business-to-business spaces, Chamoun said.
"Many industries go through these times where all the sudden the new sort of technology starts to really change and enhance the industry," Chamoun said. "We'll look back 10 years from now and go, 'Wow, we all saw that huge shift.' "
Customers just want things to be easier and faster, particularly in an atmosphere of shrinking margins, all three executives said.
Meanwhile, on any given weekday morning, thousands of vehicles shuttle through physical auction lanes as rapid-fire auctioneers call out prices and throngs of seasoned purchasers give subtle bids by slightly gesturing a hand or even just raising an eyebrow. It is often a collegial atmosphere with excitement and its own variety of sounds and smells.
For buyers and sellers who'd rather do things digitally, scent may be the final frontier.