Manheim had begun linking its physical and digital offerings before the coronavirus pandemic threw things into overdrive last spring.
Now, the Cox Automotive wholesale giant said it is spending almost $100 million this year to button up the seams in the auction process, making it fluid from the physical lanes to remote screens.
"Because we were able to operate digitally, it also showed us a new way to operate that would be much more seamless for clients in the future," Manheim President Grace Huang told Automotive News.
Manheim switched to all-digital auctions nearly a year ago amid the spread of COVID-19 in the U.S. It has been gradually allowing some buyers to return to physical auction lanes and resumed running cars down lanes at more than half of its auctions.
As of Wednesday, the company is running in-lane, physical sales at 45 of its 76 auction sites in the U.S. The number could fluctuate based on local restrictions or guidelines, a company spokesperson said.
Even before the large switch to mostly digital sales began, Manheim had set in motion several initiatives to speed up and improve several auction processes. But the shift last spring made the need more acute.
"What we discovered as we went all digital in the later parts of March, April and in May, is that we had some gaps," said Patrick Brennan, senior vice president of Manheim Marketplace. "We had some gaps in the way our clients were dealing with us, how they wanted to interact with us."
The company's main goal is to make it easier for clients to interact with them, regardless of whether they're bidding in-lane or online. Much of the effort is on connecting Manheim customers with the right people to help them.
For example, with arbitration and virtual auction blocks, the company has teams of specialists operating out of digital hubs to help customers, regardless of location. Manheim has invested in cloud technology so its Client Response Centers can quickly field questions and route them to the right person.
Other processes are generally being streamlined. The company has centralized all of its title dispersing to an office in Carmel, Ind.
"So rather than the clients, the consigners, having to deal with 20 locations or even more than that -- 30 locations depending where they're selling -- they can send their title and all their paperwork to one particular location in Carmel, Ind., and then we can disperse that to the buyer of the vehicle overnight," Brennan said.
The $100 million investment in these efforts is an increase over last year but is not an unprecedented amount.
Said Huang, "It kind of gets us back to historical levels of where we were when we were investing in big, big changes."