Digital retailing vendors say they have fielded more calls from dealers looking to install digital tools since the crisis accelerated.
Modal, which offers white-labeled digital retailing tools to dealerships, said average orders per dealership — buyers who complete the entire online checkout process — are up nearly 30 percent in March compared with February.
"What we've heard from our existing dealer partners is that their e-commerce channel is going to become more important to their strategies as a result of the coronavirus," Modal CEO Aaron Krane told Automotive News.
AutoFi, which develops and markets software to automate online vehicle sales and financing, launched a weekly webinar series for dealership employees to seek advice from other dealers who already have gone digital.
Digital retailing provider Roadster has shifted dealership training and activation from in-person to remote to get dealers up and running faster, CEO Andy Moss said.
The thinking around digital retailing has shifted in a matter of days from a concept the industry was slowly accepting to a business continuity solution, he added.
Many vendors are offering help, from discounting fees to rolling out new services. Autotrader, for instance, launched a suite of home services that include virtual walk-arounds, test drives and vehicle delivery. More than 4,000 dealerships signed up within a few days of the rollout, Jessica Stafford, general manager of Cox Automotive's Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book, said in a statement.
Dean Evans, executive vice president at dealership technology company Cars.com, said many digital tools have had transaction capability.
But "the dealerships just weren't using all of that functionality in that orchestrated way," Evans said. "Now that's happening at a much-accelerated rate."
At Germain Toyota, showroom traffic was off by 38 percent through March 24, Kramer said. Internet leads were down 12 percent. But phone leads were flat, and chat leads have more than doubled.
As the outbreak escalated, managers took to using virtual tools to close deals, Kramer said. Finance managers have started to use the Zoom video-conferencing app to connect with customers; they can text a link to a virtual finance-and-insurance menu to a customer so they can discuss the information on the call.
"We've done it with people in their 80s, and they seem to embrace it," he said.
Now that customers have seen the digital options, Kramer said, after the crisis wanes, "I don't know that they're going to want to spend three hours here."
Jackie Charniga contributed to this report.