An eLEND survey of auto dealerships offers a good news/bad news scenario on how digital retailing is progressing.

Dealers overwhelmingly say they are progressive and willing to adopt more digital tools (84%), yet the majority define digital retailing as posting inventory and says more than 50% of their process continues to be manual or paper-based.

The survey, conducted among dealerships nationwide in August, indicates dealers are interested in a progressive, customer-focused, digital approach to retailing.

For example, dealers overwhelmingly agreed they should sell a car the way the customer wants to buy it, online or in-store. But the actual process and tools to implement that lags behind the intent, according to the study says.

Highlights include:

  • Customer service was cited as the top dealership differentiator.
  • 68% of respondents say digital retailing’s main benefit is shorter transaction times.
  • Dealerships overwhelmingly agree their website operates as a‘digital’ showroom (93%), but most define digital retailing as listing inventory opposed to allowing more deals to be initiated online or with smartphone and computer-tablet technologies.
  • While 84% plan to adopt more digital retailing tools, the majority (70%) opt for an incremental approach.
  • Reluctance to change and cost are cited as top barriers to using and offering more tools. Less than 20% are opposed adopting more tools.
  • Online digital-retailing tools connected with the in-store sales process was the top choice for nearly 70% of dealers.
  • 60% say that if they could add more tools to make their websites more transactional, they would.

“One thing that remains consistent over the years, as we survey dealerships, is the disconnect between the progressive, streamlined digital process dealers say they want to offer and their ability to deliver it,” says Pete MacInnis, CEO of eLEND, a financial technology company.

Customers’ expectations seem to outpace dealerships’ ability to meet them, he says.

He attributes that, in part, to slow adoption of new technology, the inherent complexity of financing and purchasing a vehicle and the industry’s struggle to deliver end-to-end digital retailing that’s not cobbled together.