Anyone in auto retail with an Internet connection — which one would think is just about everyone at this point — should know that the effort to buy used vehicles from consumers has largely moved to the Web.
Customer-sourced cars, of course, can still come from the service lane and good old-fashioned trade-ins that arrive on the dealership lot. But when inventory is as badly needed as it is now, dealers more than ever are turning to the Internet for leads.
Some search for vehicles on Facebook or Craigslist, for example. Some have added "we'll buy your car" buttons and cash-offer tools to their websites.
On the latter front, CarMax says it has found success partnering with Edmunds, which it has acquired, to offer an online cash appraisal and trade offer tool. With its national presence, the retailer may have a leg up here — and it sees the sky as the limit.
CEO Bill Nash said last week that the company bought about 163,000 cars from consumers in its fiscal first quarter ended May 31 using the tool developed with Edmunds. That represented almost half of all the vehicles it bought from consumers.
Asked in a call with analysts whether that 50 percent mark is a target, Nash said the company's goal is to drive that rate "as high as possible."
Nash also was asked about the "wacky" supply environment, in which good inventory is hard to come by.
"Obviously, the buying directly from consumers has been a big focus," he said. "I've talked about putting investment in that area. I think what you're seeing is really coming to fruition."
CarMax says it is now the largest online buyer of used vehicles in the U.S. Still, even with major online initiatives, the good old-fashioned in-person trade-in hasn't gone away.
"We're also encouraged just by the traditional [method] with customers coming in the store and doing appraisals that way," Nash said. "So, you know, we feel good about both of those."