Penske Automotive Group, the country's second-largest new-vehicle retailer, is pursuing some omnichannel elements while being careful to balance customer demand for both digital and in-person experiences.
A Penske survey revealed that more than 90 percent of customers still want to do paperwork and take delivery in the store, said Michael Kabcenell, Penske vice president of digital strategy. One reason is that transactions include sensitive information such as Social Security numbers.
Since the retailer has stores in several states, differing regulations factor into how fast digital strategies can be adopted. Local and state regulations, particularly those that require wet-ink signatures on transaction-related paperwork, have long presented challenges to fully completing vehicle sales online.
Still, some customers want their paperwork ready when they enter the store. So Penske has rolled out Get My Certificate, via which customers can digitally sign and agree to terms of a deal.
"Of course they've done research online already, and this shortens up the time in the dealership," Penske CEO Roger Penske said. "The whole buying process is more professional and I think it's more accurate when it comes to the customer satisfaction throughout the transaction."
In the meantime, Penske's self-service tools — another aspect of its omnichannel efforts in which customers can schedule service and make payments online — have become increasingly popular. Online payments for service grew 92 percent year-over-year in Penske's fourth quarter. In the third quarter, online appointments were up 19 percent. Penske did not provide fourth-quarter figures.
Terri Mulcahey, Penske's executive vice president of marketing, said the self-service tools remain an area of focus. And newer tools such as mobile trade-in valuations are expected to become more important not only for sourcing inventory but also to help speed transactions and bolster customer service.
"Another big piece we continue to keep an eye on are the channels themselves," she said.
It wasn't long ago dealerships had to tend to leads coming in via phone and email. But over the past four or five years, the channels have expanded to include such avenues as online chats, text messaging and Google business listings.
Penske is adjusting to these changes both online and offline and also by brand and shopper demographics, Mulcahey said.
"Every customer has their own preference," Mulcahey said. "And it's our job to make sure we're able to meet every one of them."
Melissa Burden contributed to this report.