Large auto retailers had been developing and offering digital retail options before the coronavirus hit and kept millions of people at home. The pandemic did not necessarily open the floodgates to further investment, but it certainly increased the velocity.
Now, dealership groups' digital retailing focus appears to be shifting toward offering as many capabilities and as much personalization as possible to customers.
Last week, Penske Automotive Group and Cox Automotive announced they've jointly developed an online digital retailing platform for used vehicles that enables a consumer vehicle purchase from the research stage through paperwork and delivery. Penske Vice President of Retail Strategy Michael Kabcenell highlighted the tool's ability to provide personalized, instant payment information on every vehicle in inventory.
"So it makes it really easy for customers to consider their budget and the financing aspect of the transaction all the way through their purchase journey, and not at the very end," he told Automotive News.
The product also gives customers the ability to compare four different vehicles, select protection products, value their trade-ins, get approved for financing, sign paperwork online and set up home delivery.
And there has been no shortage of digital retailing efforts among Penske's publicly traded auto retail peers.
Asbury Automotive Group Inc. introduced its Clicklane digital sales tool last year. Group 1 Automotive launched its AcceleRide digital sales tool in 2019. AutoNation has AutoNation Express. Sonic Automotive Inc. aims to roll out a new omnichannel platform by the end of the year. CarMax completed the rollout of its omnichannel retail offering in August 2020.
Omnichannel is a buzzword that's not going away any time soon — it refers to a customer being able to take a seamless shopping journey whether they are using digital devices or visiting physical locations. Lithia Motors Inc. CEO Brian DeBoer said that dealership group's omnichannel effort, Driveway, is on pace to reach 15,000 transactions this year.
Penske had been using a digital sales tool, called Preferred Purchase, since 2015. But the retailer's new technology apparently takes things further.
Offering digital sales options is a given at this point. Going forward, it's all about catering to consumers as they go through the shopping journey — however and wherever they do so.