The online shopping trend has also created opportunities for tech-focused companies that help dealers find customers anywhere. Offering delivery as an option is seen as key.
Some dealers, such as Courtesy, have dedicated staff handling delivery logistics themselves. Others partner with outside companies. Kendall, for example, works with Joydrive, a fast-growing platform that facilitates sales using dealers' inventory.
Kendall lists all of its new inventory and some of its used vehicles on the company's website.
Joydrive lists about 35,000 vehicles on its website, up from 15,000 in the second quarter. It has roughly 140 dealers in 14 states using its service, and it delivers nationwide, said company founder and CEO Hunter Gorham. Another 140 dealers are in the pipeline to join, he said.
"We have dealers out there that are like, 'Look, we understand that … 65 percent of American households have an Amazon Prime membership and want to do business a different way. We've also seen the growth of Carvana, and it's incredibly impressive,' " Gorham said.
To list with Joydrive, dealers have to agree to home delivery, a nonnegotiable price and a return policy of up to five days or 250 miles on the odometer.
Joydrive's focus is decidedly on new vehicles, as about two-thirds of its listed inventory is new cars and trucks. "Our biggest wedge, or differentiator, is we have the ability to be like Amazon, but for new cars — and that's way more complex than used," Gorham said.
Another company helping dealers become more geographically agnostic is CarGurus. It has sought to capitalize by promoting vehicle delivery, so long as dealers handle the logistics and agree to a seven-day return policy. On its site, CarGurus will note for shoppers whether free delivery is offered or break out the shipping costs and bake them into its deal rating calculations.
For dealers offering delivery, CarGurus will automatically supplement vehicle searches that turn up relatively few results. For example, a search for a 2017 Honda Accord in Boston would yield plenty of results. But if someone was searching for a black 2017 Tesla Model S with alloy wheels, the local results would be much less abundant.
"That's a far more specific search," said Tom Caputo, the company's chief product officer. "When those search results are limited, then in that local market we'll layer on delivery options to give the consumer greater choice to find the vehicle that they are ultimately looking for."
Dealers pay a premium for the service. CarGurus launched it in the second half of 2018, initially piloted with some of the largest national independents, Caputo said. This year it's been rolled out more broadly to include a range of small and large dealerships, including franchisees and independents. The company would not disclose how many dealers it's working with.
"I can say that we're seeing exciting growth and the dealer growth from January to today is three [times]," Caputo said.
Charles Smith, general manager at Mac Haik Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep-Ram in Houston, signed on to the service, seeing it as a way to compete beyond southeast Texas. "For us it was a good product to look at for a large dealer group with a larger inventory in an extremely aggressive market," he said, adding that it helped them reach markets that are less competitive. Smith, who oversees the franchise store and its two independent used-car lots, said the stores offer free delivery within 300 miles.
A.J. Maknati, general manager of Tricars, an independent luxury dealer in Gaithersburg, Md., said his store has deployed CarGurus' delivery technology as well. "It's just bringing another audience into your business," he said. "You're not competing within 10, 15 miles. You're competing in a larger market."
Lindsay VanHulle contributed to this report.