Franchised stores are more capable of transacting online and outside of a dealership today than in years past, given how the coronavirus pandemic accelerated the transition.
Customer satisfaction with new-car dealerships reached an all-time high of 74 percent last year, according to a recent Cox Automotive consumer survey. Dealerships offered more digital retailing tools and more direct outreach to buyers, which saved them time, said Vanessa Ton, Cox's senior industry intelligence manager.
At the same time, website visits for companies such as Carvana have increased for several years in a row, according to Cox, which called 2020 a "breakthrough year" for awareness and traffic. Online used-vehicle sellers entered the fragmented market with a vision to make buying a vehicle as easy as it is to buy nearly anything else, and they generally advertise a better, faster and easier experience than traditional dealerships.
Still, visits to dealership websites, while down slightly in 2020, outpaced Carvana and competitors by roughly 3 to 1, Cox found. If more consumers knew that dealerships could be as "quick and easy" as Carvana or Vroom, "that could potentially increase satisfaction even further," Ton said.
Peter Scherr, chief marketing officer at Vroom, said via email that the company welcomes the industry's digital shift, though he did not directly answer whether traditional dealerships' ability to transact more online will make it harder for his company to differentiate itself in that way.
"We think any transition toward digital retailing in the industry is positive," Scherr wrote. "This is the way consumers want to transact, whether in a pandemic or not, so to see the industry as a whole move in this direction is a good thing."
Vroom declined to make Scherr available for a phone interview.
Scherr would not provide specific data about website traffic, leads and sales generated from Vroom's Super Bowl commercial but said the spot was effective. It will continue to air as part of Vroom's national cable, broadcast and digital media buys, he said.
"We saw the Super Bowl ad as comedic and hyperbolic, and we wanted to empathize with consumers about their negative dealership experiences and introduce Vroom as a better alternative," Scherr wrote.
"Not only did data inform the core insight of the ad," he added, "but we also did multiple rounds of consumer testing to ensure the ad was as memorable and effective as possible, as well as to ensure that we were striking the right tone with consumers in a particularly unique environment."
Carvana spokeswoman Amy O'Hara declined to discuss the company's marketing strategy but said its business model from the start was designed around online vehicle buying.
"If others are taking notice of that, that's great," she said, "but we're continuing to focus on what we can do to set the customer experience standard very, very high."