Pub. 20 2021-2022 Issue 3


The Race to Digital Retailing: How to Win in a Competitive Landscape

“Digital Retailing” has been all the buzz in automotive, particularly in the aftermath of the pandemic. The race to digital retailing is packed with different players across the industry, including individual dealers, dealer groups, digital dealers, OEMs, lenders, and marketplaces – all trying to find the best way to use digital retailing to enhance the auto purchase experience.

However, while adoption of digital retailing tools has increased on many individual dealer websites, some dealers still see digital retailing solutions as a way of simply generating leads. Many are hesitant to dive in because they are concerned about negatively impacting profitability. And finally, others have invested in digital tools on their websites but have failed to provide any sort of hybrid approach with their showroom experience.

In this competitive landscape, it’s clear that for dealers to truly remain relevant and “disruption-proof,” we have to reframe the way we look at digital and the retail experience. We must reorient our mindsets to think beyond just “digital retailing” and instead focus on digital transformation. This goes well beyond just a widget on your website. It’s an overhaul of your team strategy and process as well. It’s using digital to enable a better experience for the customer and a more efficient selling process for the dealership. And the dealers that embrace digital transformation across their entire sales process have reaped the rewards, with close rates two to three times higher than the average dealer.

Digital transformation starts from the top and requires a shift in mindset. Here are a few examples of shifts to consider:

  • We need to think of “digital retailing” as “retailing.” In other words, it’s important not to treat DR as some separate experience relegated to the internet department. Instead, view it as a strategy that enables and supercharges your entire sales process.
  • Many dealers view their websites as an extension of their showroom. But in a world where consumers visit 10-plus websites during the shopping experience but less than two showrooms, we need to reframe that view. In reality, the store is actually an extension of the website, and it’s critical for us to put our best foot forward in our approach to our digital showroom.
  • Only 10-12% of customers finalize their auto purchase experience entirely online, while the rest complete parts of the experience online and transition into the showroom. Consumers want the flexibility to do as much or as little of the car-buying process as they want online. This requires the dealership to give up some of the control historically preached in sales training – and enable every customer to purchase in their preferred way.
  • Digital retailing has transformed the way we should think about our open business hours. Many dealers are open “bell-to-bell.” However, in a world where 38% of shoppers apply for credit apps after dealership hours, it’s apparent that the point of sale is wherever the customer is. That’s anytime and anywhere – whether at home, on the move, in the showroom, or some combination thereof.

We recently studied the top-performing digital retailers on the AutoFi platform to understand the philosophies, strategies, and best practices that have enabled them to succeed. Here is what sets them apart:

Website Experience and Branding

It’s not enough to slap a widget on your website. Top dealers brand their digital retailing experiences and use this as a way to differentiate themselves from the competition.

Once you get the brand down, don’t forget about the nuts-and-bolts user experience on your site. Many dealer sites have seven to 10 different calls to action; this lack of direction completely confuses the customer. Top dealers understand that it’s vital to nurture the consumer through the purchase journey and show how simple it is to transact – and that starts with one or two clear and simple starting points like “shop now” and “schedule service.”

Online Engagement

Top dealers use technology that empowers consumers to complete as much or as little as they want online, including trade, payment estimate, application, and delivery. These dealers use digital retailing solutions that help them offer a high level of transparency in an accurate and customizable way so that what they show online matches up to what they offer in-store.

The leading retailers use digital to meet the customer wherever they are and pick the deal up where it left off. When they engage with the digital consumer, they do their homework on the customer journey to avoid disconnects like making the consumer repeat information or steps or quoting them information that is different from what they received online.

Top dealers empower their sales teams to engage with the digital consumer remotely. When customers receive a remote deal in a shared experience, we know that they are 96% more likely to set an appointment and 234% more likely to fill out a credit application.

In-Store Experience

The most successful dealers use digital to enable a better showroom experience. They lead with technology on their websites but understand that technology can also improve the in-store experience and increase engagement, efficiency, and profitability. This includes arming your sales team with tools that enable them to offer the same digital retailing experience on your website (e.g., calculating payments, building deals, etc.) to customers on the showroom floor.

Digital retailing is no longer just a subset of automotive retailing. It’s a vital part of a comprehensive approach to providing customers with the buying experience they’ve come to expect and creating efficiency in your sales process so your people can do more. The retailers that embrace it fully will stand out and WIN in an ever-changing and competitive marketplace.

Kerri Wise is Vice President of Marketing at AutoFi, a leading commerce platform for digital auto sales and financing. She can be reached at Learn more at