When we think of shopping in 2020, there isn't a clear distinction between doing it online or in person. While e-commerce has slowly evolved over time, stay-at-home orders as a result of COVID-19 have expedited the process for many long-established bricks-and-mortar businesses to provide complete end-to-end online experiences. Transactions that might have sounded cumbersome to do online just a few years ago, such as adopting a pet or picking out an engagement ring, are standard online experiences today — and the auto industry is no exception.
Human-to-human interactions have been integral to car buying because of the significance of the transaction and the size of the merchandise. People like to try before they buy, especially when it's one of the biggest purchases a person can make. Now shoppers have access to things such as at-home test drives you can schedule online, and we're seeing the traditional showroom experience become less of the go-to.
These combined factors — evolving consumer preferences, innovation by the auto retail industry and a need for contactless transactions — have created an inflection point where, from this point on, auto retail will be largely online. This is further confirmed by COVID-19-specific research fielded by Cox Automotive that found two-thirds of new-car shoppers are comfortable completing the entire car-buying process online. The relationship-driven nature of the industry is not changing — with new online solutions, dealers and shoppers can form relationships even earlier in the process.