Automotive digital retailing platforms make car buying better for customers online and in the store, while driving efficiency throughout your sales workflows.
Beyond bringing inventory online, digital auto retail lets customers complete as much of the deal as they like themselves, with seamless access to your in-store sales teams when they need it.
These platforms also digitize the in-store experience, promoting simplicity, productivity, and transparency. Most importantly, you can expect better customer experiences and higher dealer profits.
What is automotive digital retailing?
Automotive digital retailing is a tech solution that lets car buyers drive their path to purchase seamlessly between online and in-person interactions. It also equips you and your sales teams for better customer connections and more efficient deals.
Both soft credit pulls and full applications with real-time approvals
Enhanced desking with real-time sales performance data
Digital retail doesn’t aim to replace your sales teams; it’s here to make their jobs better and easier by creating consistency and simplicity for every team member across the floor. It emphasizes the strengths of the traditional car-buying process, while filling in gaps in the omnichannel experience. When you bring on digital retail, you give your sales teams the power to run the complete deal workflow from their tablet or computer, and seamlessly continue the customer’s journey no matter where they left off online.
And when customers and dealers are faced with inventory shortages, supply chain slowdowns, lockdowns, or other unforeseen economic times, embracing automotive digital retail helps dealers thrive in any challenging environment.
By digitizing car sales, you can future-proof your business and remain a profit center while still pivoting to meet today’s consumers where, when, and how they want to buy a car. In fact, digital retail supercharges the long journey to digitization that began decades ago.
How has digital retail evolved?
For a long time, dealer websites served more as digital billboards, contact forms, and simple classified ads than an actual retail experience. Third-party sites picked up the torch for vehicle discovery while OEMs built out online configurators. Eventually, dealer websites began to incorporate payment calculators and trade-in value APIs.
But the online experience remained bumpy and customers still had to do most of the deal in the store, sometimes facing friction when they transitioned. More recently, digital auto retail has grown to incorporate a nearly end-to-end process that enables a deal to progress quicker and more transparently. It’s also become a helping hand to every other piece of technology in your showroom.
Where does automotive digital retailing fit in the dealer tech stack?
The best automotive digital retailing tools help your existing tech stack work better and fill in the gaps to help you create a true omnichannel experience.
Appointment and lead capture for future remarketing
Contact information for online and offline outreach
Online inventory showcase
Trade-In offer portal
Build and price tool
In addition to these useful and efficient platform handshakes, digital retail presents an opportunity to attract more customers by promoting a better, more modern buying journey.
How can digital retail support automotive marketing?
Digital retail can bring your website to life and helps you achieve exceptional customer experiences and omnichannel car buying. It also makes your brand experience consistent across every touchpoint. Most buyers prefer a hybrid online and in-store approach, and you can be their preferred dealer by embracing a digital retail platform.
Most importantly, digital automotive retail collects high-intent leads at multiple stages of the buyer’s journey. These can convert directly within the digital retail tool or they can book showroom and test drive appointments. They can also integrate with your CRM for ongoing outreach with the added benefit of knowing how far they made it through the buying journey.
More of an omnichannel car buying experience
Car buyers spend roughly 75% of their journey online. Digital retail brings you to the forefront of modern shopping behaviors by driving toward omnichannel retail. This retail journey is available to customers on whichever platform they choose, with seamless transitions between websites, apps, email, phone, and in-person interactions.
Prior to 2020, only 2% of auto sales were completed online but that’s now more than 30% and climbing. More than 60% of consumers decide on brand, model, and price before they visit the dealership. When they do head to the showroom, there’s on average only 2.4 dealers visited. But because customers switch between online and offline experiences at least four times, you need to create seamless transitions between every experience.
Automotive digital retail supports all of these future characteristics via three core capabilities with numerous features within.
4 core capabilities of automotive digital retail
The core capabilities of a digital automotive retail tool include:
In-store digital retail
F&I menus and real-time credit approval
They support a seamless customer experience while simplifying processes and empowering salespeople, managers, and finance and insurance teams to deliver better, more efficient, and more profitable car-buying workflows.
Here’s how each capability works and its top benefits for customers and dealers.
1. Online automotive retail
It’s no secret that car buyers enjoy e-commerce experiences, and plenty of third-party car search websites and aggregators already provide them. But if a customer can have that experience right on your website and kick off a seamless route to test drives and F&I, that’s a win for everyone.
Customers can build their deal as far as they’d like
Faster, more efficient deal workflows
Meeting consumer demand for online car buying capabilities
Frictionless transitions from online to in-store
Online communication tools like live chat
Intuitive ecommerce experiences
Personalized journeys—at their pace
Ability to browse an entire dealer inventory online
Comparing vehicles side-by-side
Running the transaction as far as they’d like
Self-penciling to identify payment expectations
Browse, compare, build, and price
With online retail, customers can search your inventory by new and used, make and model, or other criteria. They can also set a price range and choose cash or financing, to adjust monthly payment estimates and find a vehicle that fits their budget. Plus they can compare models side-by-side to make their decision.
An online automotive retail tool drives customers as far as they’d like, including an in-depth pricing breakdown. They can customize their down payment, loan term, and arrangements like financing or leases. They can even get instant trade-in offers and have that rolled into their pricing. Finally, they can place a deposit to secure the vehicle.
Customers also get a transparent line-by-line look at their deal’s dollars—to avoid surprises with taxes or fees. That transparency can be game-changing: while nearly 77% of dealersthink they offer a transparent experience, only 26% of customers agree.
When needed, you can even take the wheel and help the online buyer select a model, build the deal, and collect their information. Online retail customers can easily book a showroom appointment, and pick up exactly where they left off, since all their information is readily available to salespeople on the in-store digital retail platform.
Digital retail not only modernizes the salesperson’s roles, it brings an app-driven experience to F&I processes, too. By integrating with crucial platforms like RouteOne and DealerTrack, as well as F&I product menu databases, the automotive ecommerce tool provides an intuitive F&I experience for customers while remaining within guardrails set by managers.
Software integrations that aid efficiency and accuracy
Conversion-optimized F&I workflows for higher uptake
Soft credit pulls for accurate first pencils
Easy online document uploads
Skipping the F&I office
Smooth and intuitive finance workflows
Easy online document uploads
Online credit application and document upload
The best online digital retail tools can handle the finance application and approval process online while staying within “bumpers” set by you and your F&I managers. This can be a crucial competitive advantage for you, seeing as 80% of customers want to configure their payment online.
Customers can also submit their credit application online. This can be linked to all of the dealer’s lending partners and prep the buyer to simply walk in, sign their contract, and drive off in their new car. The best digital retail platforms can first offer a soft-pull credit scenario to help a buyer understand their purchasing power. Then as the deal progresses, they can make an official credit application and get real-time approvals from your various lending partners to find a loan that works for them.
The tool can also collect necessary documents with an easy upload portal and forms library available right on the tablet or computer. This capability can help digitize your front-end paperwork, even filling in fields with customer information that’s already been collected, efficiently creating a digital deal jacket.
Accessories and back-end products
Customers can view your entire menu of vehicle accessories, protection plans, and other F&I add-ons. This continuous, intuitive experience shows the user exactly how the selected add-on will change their total and monthly payments—and can even increase uptake of these products to raise PVR.
The role of in-store digital automotive retail is to empower a faster, smoother, and more enjoyable showroom experience for both the buyer and your sales team. As customers enter the showroom, they're checked in by a salesperson holding a tablet containing all of the information they've already submitted, ready to shift to the next gear.
Preloaded client information
Faster, more efficient deals
Real-time offer updates
Pre-configured 'first-pencil' completed in the app
Consistent F&I product demonstrations
Being in control of their deal
Picking up where they left off online
Faster car-buying workflows
The entire set of online retail capabilities outlined above are available to your in-store sales team. Salespeople can even share their own screen with the customer as they browse and compare models, build their deal, and handle F&I steps. They don’t even have to leave their client’s side to get approvals from managers and F&I or process paperwork, all from their computer or tablet.
Perhap the biggest benefit to dealers launching in-store digital retail is the opportunity to run faster deals with higher PVR. What used to take 3-4 hours can be reduced to 90 minutes or less. Not only can faster deals make for happier customers, it can allow salespeoples to be more productive. And you’ll be able to measure and track this from an intuitive dashboard.
4. Digital manager portal
With digital automotive retail, your managers can have a comprehensive virtual dashboard to keep track of deals, customers, salespeople, inventory, technology, and more.
With every deal—online and in-store—running through a single retail platform, managers can reduce duplicate deals and focus on better customer experiences and higher PVRs. From picking up leads in a CRM to pushing deals to your DMS, digital auto retail’s seamless platform integrations make your entire operation more efficient.
Control and communication
Dealers using a digital retail tool can easily and instantly change the structure of a deal to meet their profit goals and the client’s budget. Without resubmitting applications, a manager can desk and approve deals with just a few clicks.
Manager-to-sales instant messaging also reduces time spent on questions, negotiations, and approvals. Salespeople can more smoothly and quickly get the deal done right from their tablet.
With all these tools at your fingertips, you can optimize your sales operations for better personal and business results.
Improves dealer employee onboarding, retention, and performance
By putting product, pricing, and finance information in an easy-to-use app, digital automotive retail reduces the learning curve. New salespeople can turn to the details and finance guardrails built into the app and digital inventory, which can reduce the time they spend in onboarding and product training. That can make recruitment easier and open up a diverse pool of talent beyond experienced car salespeople, while attracting digital-savvy professionals with other soft skills.
And when sales teams can run deals faster and smoother, onboard quicker, and have a more streamlined workflow with higher earnings, they can be happier on the job, too. That can help reduce your turnover and costly hiring needs.
Single point of contact sales thrive with digital retail
When a salesperson can handle the entire process from their computer or tablet, they don’t need to leave their client’s side or hand them off to other employees. This way, customers can build better, more trusting relationships and spend more time falling in love with their car.
So how can you be sure you’re getting the right digital automotive retailing platform for your business?
Choosing the right digital retail tool for your dealership
Possibly the most important question to ask when vetting an automotive digital retailing tool is whether it will merge with your existing business operations. Find a digital retail solution that integrates with your other software and is flexible for multiple in-store workflows.
Ease of use and employee adoption is also important. Communicating the benefits of faster, simpler workflows will help. So will choosing a partner with no-cost support for in-store launch and training. As for overall pricing, look at the monthly cost per rooftop as well as any additional fees for features, setup, training, and more.
By choosing and implementing the right automotive digital retailing tool, you can speed towards a more modern, omnichannel car-buying experience that makes for happier customers and salespeople, plus better productivity and higher profits.
Joe Karnes is a solutions engineer at
Upstart Auto Retail, helping dealers bring robust digital automotive retail to life online and in the showroom. For more than a decade, he’s been immersed in automotive retail sales, marketing, and technology both on the floor and behind the screen. Find him on LinkedIn and upstart.com/dealers.
Reach your customers
Check out automotive digital retailing software to ensure your customer experience is great - online and in-stores.