By Scott Penn, VP Business Development, APCO Holdings

Every time I watch television, I see anti-dealership commercials from disruptors with online or end-to-end buying solutions. What are they selling? They don’t advertise competitive prices; instead, they focus on how easy the car-buying process is. These companies and others are spending millions of dollars to advertise customer convenience. And your customers are listening.

But I don’t see many dealers advertising this same level of customer convenience. Customers are paying more for vehicles than ever before, but are they getting a level of customer service commensurate with that premium price? Does the experience of coming to a dealership compete with the level of transparency and convenience that an online experience offers?

Many dealers remain convinced that customers have no issue with traditional sales, F&I, and delivery processes. But by keeping with the status quo, dealers could miss a unique opportunity to create additional value to set themselves apart and possibly gain market share. Offering express purchase options could influence buying decisions as market conditions remain at a premium pricing level for vehicles—especially for customers who have used online resources to complete most of their research about purchase terms.

The evidence shows that when given a choice, many car buyers opt to work at least some of their deals online, with no time constraints or pressure, and appreciate having options for delivery. What better time to adopt a strategy that recognizes this preference when so many customers are already purchasing new cars before they arrive at the dealership and manufacturers have started to advertise dealer cash for pre-ordering the vehicle?

Although most dealerships have started to use various digital retailing tools, only a small fraction have fully adopted them. In this case, “full adoption” means ensuring every customer knows the purchase and delivery options available to them at the beginning of the process, whether they start online or onsite. It also would mean a process where digital tools are used in the showroom. Ideally, the online and onsite processes merge to offer customers the same experience, regardless of whether they are at home or in the showroom.

The benefits of a digital retail process to customers are clear, but what about dealers? Early adopters have reported two substantial benefits.

Less Negotiation

There is a trade-off for convenience. With digital retailing tools, dealerships have more governance over pricing. When car shoppers choose convenience, they understand there will be less room for negotiation, which benefits the dealer’s bottom line.

Increased Efficiency

More in-transit vehicles are being sold now than ever before. Chances are good this will become the norm. And in a world where most vehicles are pre-sold, sales efficiency in the dealership can be significantly improved.

There is an opportunity to create a consolidated sales process and even a consolidated staffing strategy to handle more consistent traffic and manage more appointment setting. There is also an opportunity to build a virtual F&I option to help gain efficiency. Dealers are now delivering to customers farther and farther from their retail locations, and the pandemic revealed we need to be able to service the customer no matter the distance.

Online and convenience purchase options will continue to be developed in the auto retail space. Just having the vehicle in stock will not be good enough in the long term. The time to fully adopt digital retailing tools and, even more critical, develop a new strategy that delivers a convenient shopping experience for car shoppers is now. That strategy can start with something as simple as a question when making first contact with a customer….“Are you interested in our express option for your purchase?”


Scott Penn leads APCO Holding’s sales and finance training initiatives for its retail customers. Penn has more than 25 years of experience in the automotive sales, finance and insurance industries. He started in car sales and advanced to several senior management positions, including Regional Finance Director with Sonic Automotive and Variable Operations Director with Germain Motor Company.

Author: Christine Corkran

Digital Dealer