Automotive, Education, Insights

What does digital retailing look like at the end of 2021?

By Andrew Tai - Dec 14, 2021

If this year felt like another blurry jumble of months and days, you’re not alone. Sometimes, I wake up expecting my calendar to tell me we’re 88 weeks into March, 2020; other days, August 2021 seems like a lifetime ago.

Whether you’ve experienced the passage of time or not, our industry sure has. The issue still on everyone’s mind is the supply shortages that have turned every dealer into a savvy seller of preowned vehicles, but the biggest change I’ve noticed in the past year and a half is the way cars are being sold.

So let’s take a minute to recap the monumental changes we’ve experienced in the past year and a half, and see the lessons that so much of our industry learned through a trial by fire.

Flexibility is the key to survival.

Perhaps the first lesson learned by dealers in the early weeks of the pandemic was the importance of flexibility. Consumer habits and needs can shift in an instant, and the dealers who use adaptable, future-proof tools are the ones who will be positioned to thrive.

That’s what we saw with digital retailing: dealers with the most advanced, fully featured digital retailing platforms reacted swiftly and successfully to lockdowns, partial re-openings, and every other curveball thrown their way.

Now, as consumers grow dependent on these digital tools to purchase cars even as showrooms reopen, the dealers with the most experience using digital retailing are the ones best suited to excel. The dealers who had no digital tools, or who had half-measures, may still be playing catch-up.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution.

It sounds obvious, but you’d be amazed at how many dealerships relied on simple, out-of-the-box solutions to satisfy their digital needs. As the market matured rapidly over the course of 2020 and 2021, the differences between the customizable digital retailing solutions and the one-size offerings became clear.

Your dealership runs differently than the one in another city; your dealership probably runs differently than the shop across the street. Having the flexibility to configure your digital retailing platform according to your needs, your team, your inventory, and your customer base is critical.

If I had to choose the number one reason dealers met with unsatisfactory results online, it’s that they didn’t (or couldn’t) tailor their tool to meet their needs.

The advanced solution is always the right one.

Not every car buyer needs the most advanced tech package you have available. You may not have bought the most sophisticated smartphone on the market, and I don’t blame you. Who really needs that many cameras on one phone?

The same isn’t true of digital retailing. A good digital solution doesn’t just patch a few holes today; it creates new possibilities for outreach strategies, re-engagement tactics, sales automation, and so much more. It’s not about what you know you need today, but what you didn’t realize you wanted for tomorrow.

Dealers who bought into the top-tier digital retailing platforms out of necessity – to keep their shops open during lockdowns – realized the potential to accomplish more than they did even before their physical doors closed.

Digital retailing is now essential to success.

Even two years ago, digital retailing was the choice of visionaries and future-forward disruptors. It wasn’t necessary, but it certainly offered the tech-savvy dealership a way to differentiate their business and accelerate their success.

Now, at the end of 2021, digital retailing is the norm. Even for regions where in-person shopping has returned in force, consumers have seen how easy it is to shop the way they’ve wanted to for years: digitally.

Whether online, in-person, or (more commonly) a combination of the two, the top digital retailing platforms offer a more streamlined, consistent, and efficient experience for customers, but also for your own team. There’s no going back to the way things were, and that’s a good thing.

Here, near the end of 2021 (and hopefully, the end of the pandemic), we can see that the digital future has arrived early, but also that it’s not as clear-cut or binary as “digital or not digital.” By looking back at the lessons of the past nearly-two-years, we can etch a path forward that leads to greater efficiency, profit, and peace of mind.


Andrew Tai is the co-founder and senior advisor to Motoinsight, but his influence extends far beyond the company. A contributing columnist to The Globe and Mail and a prolific speaker, Andrew is a recognized authority on digital retailing within the automotive industry. Connect with him today to learn how your dealership is going to change, or see the future yourself at motoinsight.com.

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