The Future is Not Online Car Buying; The Future is Omnichannel Digital Retailing

omnichannel digital retailing

The Future is Not Online Car Buying; The Future is Omnichannel Digital Retailing

I dislike the term “omnichannel digital retailing” because it’s a smash-up of buzzwords meant to make vendors sound cutting edge and smart. Of course, “omnichannel digital retailing” certainly rolls off the tongue easier than saying, “using a tablet or kiosk in-store to manage your road-to-the-sale while allowing your customers to start and finish their deal online or offline.”

That’s all omnichannel digital retailing is. It’s using technology (digital retailing) to create a great buying experience employing both online and offline (omnichannel) roads-to-the-sale.

In 2017 we weren’t yet calling it omnichannel digital retailing, though I recorded a live webinar on creating a great car-buying experience where we walked through what this looks like. In this 90-minute session, we taught dealers everything they needed to know to get started with realistic digital retailing. Not coincidentally, I also detailed these processes in my 2018 book, Assumptive Selling.

Omnichannel, and not online car buying, is where you should be focused. Omnichannel digital retailing is the future of car buying… and the present.

But… the Pandemic Changed Car Buying Forever!

Actually… not quite. Despite the proclamations made by virtually every press outlet both in and out of automotive, the relatively small uptick in 100% online deals we saw in April and May mostly subsided in June and July. In fact, nearly all my clients who enjoyed record sales months in Q2 didn’t even have digital retailing tools on their websites!

And while these dealers certainly encountered buyers who demanded more of their deals be done in advance of the visit, or who wanted (and received) home delivery, the simple fact is that basic lead-handling and phone skills, coupled with a desire to “do what it takes to sell a car” overwhelmingly drove their results.

It’s a Tool, Not a Panacea

The challenge for most traditional dealers who rolled out a digital retailing tool was the misguided belief they could just put the technology on their website, and the deals would come flooding in. Even during the height of the pandemic, most consumers were not working their deals (including fully funding these) start-to-finish online and then waiting at home for a friendly driver to deliver their new car.

It’s not quite like buying a book on Amazon, despite those who claim buying a car online is an Amazon-like experience. I’ve heard from reliable sources (though I have no proof) that 75% or more of Carvana’s deals require a sales concierge to answer questions and walk prospects through the online car-buying process. While many consumers prefer this type of sales interaction over that of a traditional dealer, for most online buyers, it seems it’s not the same as buying something from Amazon.

Buying a vehicle is one of the largest purchases consumers make; and as dealers know, there’s so much that goes into a car deal that buying from beginning to end without dealership assistance is just not practical for most people. Plus, and this is a big plus, most buyers still want to see, touch, feel, and drive the vehicle before they’re willing to pull the trigger.

It’s not the Technology, it’s the Technician

The thought that you can add an online buying tool to your website and watch the deals roll in is not reality. This makes the digital retailing tool you choose less important than your technicians (i.e., those on your team assigned to assist customers with their purchases).

There are plenty of digital retailing tools available, and you have your pick of some great technology. But the technology you choose should not be your priority. If your team does a poor job responding to leads or following your sales processes, for example, you are likely wasting money with a digital retailing tool. Without good processes that are strictly followed, you’ll have almost no chance of making the jump to successful omnichannel digital retailing.

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The good news is most dealers do have at least a few people on their team who can do this; salespeople and/or BDC agents who can become their technicians. Successfully deploying omnichannel digital retailing doesn’t require your whole team to be on board. Most dealers only need a few technicians to fill the necessary sales concierge positions to make it happen.

You see, those succeeding with omnichannel digital retailing employ a team of what I call sales concierges who respond to leads, set solid appointments, walk prospects through your tool (for those who want to buy online), and use a tablet or kiosk to ensure the in-store process starts right where the buyer left off online.

Three Primary Components

Ready to get started? Successful omnichannel digital retailing isn’t hard to implement, as there really are just three primary areas where you need to focus to get this done right. These areas are Marketing & Messaging, Calls-to-Action, and Online & Offline Processes.

Perfecting these three components will allow you to start enjoying the relatively immediate successes that come from employing true omnichannel digital retailing in your store or group.

Marketing & Messaging

Developing the marketing and messaging around a digital retailing offering is a place where some dealers get bogged down. It makes sense, after all, as this is likely to be your “brand” for the foreseeable future. However, there is a simpler way to create a strong message that can resonate through your marketing to your buyers.

Be sure your messaging addresses the three primary concerns of car buyers: time, turmoil, and trust. That is, “It takes too long to buy a car; it’s going to be a hassle; and I don’t trust car dealers.” Additionally, many consumers today are also concerned with safety. They want to be sure they will be safe if they visit your dealership or buy from you.

You can address all or most of these concerns by including terms/promises like these in your marketing and in your messaging:

  • Save Time
  • Save Money
  • 100% Transparent
  • No Hassles
  • No Haggling
  • You’re in Control
  • Your Info is Safe
  • Contactless/Touch-Free Test Drives/Delivery

…and of course, Easy!


For your website visitors, giving them clear WIIFMs (What’s In In For Me) in your calls-to-action (CTAs) will help move them into your digital retailing funnel. I recommend dealers read their calls-to-action as a consumer and determine if what you’re asking them to do would make sense to someone with little knowledge of the car business who’s looking to buy a vehicle.

My favorite example of where dealers don’t read their CTAs like a consumer happens more frequently than you’d expect. The CTA in question appears in links to their trade appraisal form. Which of these calls-to-action is more likely to generate a click and a lead: KBB Instant Cash Offer or Value My Trade?

Shocking to hear, but most consumers have no idea what “KBB Instant Cash Offer” means. Conversely, everyone who currently owns a vehicle can likely decipher the meaning of “Value My Trade” and what happens when they follow that link.

Clear calls-to-action – especially those that can include a WIIFM – work best. Therefore, it’s important to avoid creating confusion or relying on “dealer-speak” when labeling the buttons and links where you’d like consumers to start their purchase.

Using descriptive, easy to locate calls-to-action is key. Here are just a few of the kinds of calls-to-action you can use to move prospects into your digital retailing tool:

  • Check Out Online
  • Buy Now
  • Calculate Real Payments
  • Personalize My Payment
  • Value My Trade
  • Schedule Test Drive

The last CTA on this list (Schedule Test Drive) might seem like an odd addition if we’re trying to move someone into our digital retailing funnel; though, virtually any sales call-to-action can be employed to bring the prospect into the tool.

Since we don’t know which consumers will be enticed by a payment CTA vs a trade CTA vs a test drive CTA, dealers can and should use a combination of calls-to-action on their search results and vehicle details pages. (Recent data shows three calls-to-action – when deployed properly – maximize conversions on these pages.)

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When using three CTAs (for example, Calculate Payments, Schedule Test Drive, and Value My Trade), each CTA should bring the prospect into your digital retailing tool at the appropriate spot. That is, if a consumer clicks Schedule Test Drive, the tool should open a form inviting them to select a date and time, while also giving them an option to value their trade and/or calculate payments.

Online & Offline Processes

For your online digital retailing processes, it’s important to understand that anyone not completing the buying process 100% online by themselves is an internet prospect – just like anyone else who submitted a lead.

It’s a lead until it’s a sale.

Yes, your sales concierge may need to assist them before they can complete their purchase online; however, it’s a lead until it’s a sale. Approaching these prospects as if they all want to buy fully online will cost you sales. Most will still want to see, touch, feel, and drive the vehicle. Also, many will not be comfortable completing everything online even with the help of your sales concierge.

This means using an Appointment-First Approach when you contact these prospects. An Appointment-First Approach is proven to set more appointments that show than any of the old-school phone processes still being taught today. Today’s consumers are different than even a few years ago. They have the information and they know what they want. Inviting them in for a test drive is the next logical step for most internet and phone prospects.

For those willing to set an appointment – which could be 60% or more of those you contact – success will come from employing The Perfect Appointment. The Perfect Appointment is designed to create a great buying experience while transitioning the online prospect offline.

Omnichannel digital retailing, however, doesn’t just include online and online-to-offline sales. Your greatest success with these tools will come from employing digital retailing in-store for 100% offline transactions – often with just a single point-of-contact for the buyer throughout the process.

I understand this thought might be scary for many dealers and managers, but there are plenty of examples of dealerships successfully using a tablet to take a Traditional Up from beginning to end with the assistance of only one person – often in less than an hour. Moreover, many who are doing this are enjoying better front and back grosses than when they had desk and F&I managers involved!

It’s Not SIAFI

The bottom line for those with digital retailing tools – and especially those considering these – this cannot be a set-it-and-forget-it (SIAFI) venture. Success with digital retailing means omnichannel, and omnichannel requires technicians on your team capable of moving prospects through your digital retailing product whether online, offline, or a combination of the two.

Good Selling!

If you’re looking for omnichannel digital retailing success and don’t know where to start? I recommend you take 90 minutes to watch the free training we recorded in 2017: Creating a great car-buying experience

If you’re looking for that and a bit more about motivating your team to follow processes, including what drives today’s connected customers, I recommend you drop $50 on my 400-page book Assumptive Selling.

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