"You have the ability to be in multiple states, and [at] multiple sales, and I've never utilized that before," Pettigrew said.
Pettigrew participated in digital auctions before the pandemic, often saving a six-hour drive to Manheim, Pa., where he'd have to spend two days on the ground, for example. But monitoring auctions in multiple states is new for him.
He's not the only one. The industry's auction giants and others say they're seeing dealers shopping more distant auctions, though they're not abandoning physical auctions altogether.
"Cross-state bidding has just about doubled from what we saw pre-COVID," said John Hammer, chief commercial officer of KAR Global and president of the company's ADESA auction unit. "You're seeing people shopping across [states] way more than they used to."
Hammer said buyers have recognized that instead of traveling to one auction and spending hours there, it's advantageous to stay in their stores and monitor several auctions at once.
"So it's been a very efficient way for them to buy cars," he said. "And we've seen a lot of folks — even some that probably never thought they'd buy digitally — that now realize buying digitally and shopping outside of their home market area is really productive for them."
ADESA has seen dealer registrations for its digital platform increase by about 25,000 since the pandemic began, Hammer said, calling it a "very material number."
Numbers from Cox Automotive's Manheim unit support more location-agnostic shopping, too. Manheim has seen the average distance vehicles travel after purchase more than double from 225 miles in the first quarter of 2020, largely before the coronavirus pandemic, to about 500 miles as of June 8.
The shutdown of Manheim's physical auctions and other constraints across the industry at the height of the pandemic drove digital adoption at a much faster rate and caused dealers to source cars regionally and then nationally, the company said.