A digital shift: Dealer groups adjust as more customers turn to omnichannel sales

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The nation’s public dealership groups say they saw continued digital sales growth in the third quarter, with some retailers selling thousands of vehicles through online sales platforms and others reporting at least half of their transactions involved some online activity.

Lithia Motors Inc. said its Driveway online sales platform retailed and wholesaled more than 10,300 vehicles in the quarter ended Sept. 30, generating more than $290 million in revenue — or nearly 4 percent of the retailer’s total quarterly revenue, CEO Bryan DeBoer said last month.

DeBoer said that more than 30,700 vehicles had been retailed so far in 2022 using Lithia’s e-commerce tools. Many of those transactions did not include a test drive.

“I do believe that there is becoming a greater portion of the consumers that are getting more comfortable with the idea of a vehicle being delivered to home and … not having to test drive a car,” he said.

Clicklane, the digital sales tool developed by Asbury Automotive Group Inc., is projected to produce $1 billion in revenue in 2022 and $2.2 billion in 2023, Dan Clara, Asbury’s senior vice president of operations, said last month. CEO David Hult said he expects 45 to 50 percent of Asbury’s sales to occur using the Clicklane platform in two to three years.

That range, Hult said, is the “critical mass” at which Asbury would consider changing compensation, staffing and hours at physical stores.

More than 90 percent of Clicklane customers in the third quarter were new to Asbury, and the platform converted customers at more than twice the rate of a traditional Internet lead, executives said. Asbury said it sold 6,817 vehicles through Clicklane in the third quarter, up 13 percent from 2021 and an all-time record quarter.

Group 1 Automotive Inc. also set an all-time record by selling 7,600 vehicles through its AcceleRide platform in the third quarter, COO Daryl Kenningham said last month. That equated to 11 percent of Group 1’s U.S. retail sales, also a record.

Nearly three in four customers used AcceleRide for some part of their transaction in September, Kenningham said. Group 1 is working to integrate AcceleRide with its dealership management and customer relationship management systems and credit tools, he said.

“We continue to test it in several dealerships and expect a full rollout in the months ahead,” he said. “Our early results are very positive, and we expect this will provide faster and more transparent transactions for our customers.”

Penske Automotive Group Inc. uses a mix of digital channels across its operation, CEO Roger Penske said, including its Preferred Purchase program, automakers’ branded digital programs and Penske’s proprietary site in the United Kingdom.

In the third quarter, “digital sales represented approximately 5 percent of our total unit sales,” Penske said last month. With Penske reporting that it retailed 109,969 new and used vehicles during the quarter, that works out to about 5,500 vehicles coming from digital sales.

Sonic Automotive Inc. CEO David Smith said its e-commerce platform was rolled out nationwide in June at EchoPark.com, the website for Sonic’s EchoPark used-vehicle-only brand.

In the third quarter, “omnichannel sales through our new e-commerce platform accounted for 31 percent of EchoPark’s retail unit sales volume, compared to 19 percent in the second quarter,” Smith said last month. “Further, 7 percent of EchoPark volume during the quarter was sold end-to-end online, as guests continued to utilize our enhanced omnichannel purchase experience — with out-of-market buyers representing 60 percent of our e-commerce sales.”

Omnichannel refers to technology and processes aimed at providing a seamless buying experience for consumers whether they shop online, in-store or both.

At AutoNation Inc., CEO Mike Manley told analysts last month that more than 50 percent of AutoNation’s vehicle sales started on its digital channels during the quarter.

“We’ve built, and have continued to build, a compelling customer value proposition through the combination of our digital tools and our physical assets,” Manley said. “That’s critical. It’s really the combination of both of those things.”

Jack Walsworth, John Huetter and Gail Kachadourian Howe contributed to this report.

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