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Auto dealers and digital retailing: a modern marriage

It’s well established that evolving consumer preferences and technological advancements have transformed the car buying process in recent years — with auto shoppers, buyers and dealers embracing a more digital approach to auto retailing.

The shift to digital has presented opportunities for auto dealers; 87% said digital retailing solutions have positively impacted at least one area of their businesses.1 But as we know, few evolutions come without challenges.

With today’s consumers doing the bulk of their shopping online, expectations are high for seamless, personalized transactions — and that includes the purchase of a vehicle.

But what sets auto shopping apart from adding items to a virtual cart, for instance, is car buyers and dealers typically need to interact in person or over the phone to finalize the transaction —and quickly. In a new study from TransUnion, 60% of consumers who bought a car between October 2022 and October 2023 made online requests to speak to someone at a dealership a mere 2-3 days before purchasing, with 77% saying they received a response in 4 hours or less.2 This places extra pressure on dealers to make sure handoffs are done fast and smoothly, and to create a consistent and positive experience as the consumers switch between communication channels.

Add to this the lack of inventory and affordability concerns that have impacted the way auto shoppers interact with brands and dealers, and the margin for error gets even smaller.

Suffice it to say, auto dealers should be making sure they have the right data to inform and drive each touchpoint — from enriching consumer identity data to improving call answer rates to delivering connected and secure car-buying experiences — ultimately resulting in a consumer delighted with their vehicle purchase.


Video: Navigating Digital Success in Auto Retailing


No phone number; big problem

A vehicle isn’t an everyday purchase like groceries or gas. Buying a new or used car is a far more infrequent and involved process between auto dealers and consumers who are increasingly spending more time comparing car models, prices and reviews online before ever interacting with a dealer.

This adds pressure on dealers to make each touchpoint count. The problem is personal identity information (PII) generated from leads is often limited or inaccurate — making it challenging to even attempt reaching out. Simply put, the ability to resolve and enhance consumer identity data has become table stakes for auto dealers.

Fortunately, with the right identity solutions, dealers can quickly verify a new lead by accessing complete name, address, phone and email data — while further enhancing the consumer’s identity file with hundreds of demographic and other attributes to fill gaps — to better ensure the most accurate contact information is in hand when reaching for the phone.

Improved answer rates and relationships

The car buying experience might be growing increasingly digital as consumers research lending and affordability online, but human touch is still valued, and consumers and dealers still need to speak on the phone before a purchase is finalized. Unfortunately, the vast majority of business calls go unanswered today, leaving plenty of room for dealers to lose potential revenue3. However, nearly 90% of auto shoppers are more likely to answer a dealer’s phone call if the dealership’s name or logo shows up on the caller ID.2

Branded calling and verified business numbers can help dealers significantly improve engagement and answer rates. Brands are protected by ensuring legitimate calls aren’t blocked or mislabeled as spam, while authenticated mobile displays featuring a name, logo and reason for the call let consumers know who’s calling and put them at ease they’re not being scammed — ultimately building customer loyalty via a modern, branded experience.

A secure, connected experience

Given ongoing affordability concerns, consumers want to know their quoted monthly payments before filling out lengthy forms to get prequalified. In fact, 62% of surveyed auto shoppers opted for prequalification during the loan process — the majority of whom felt it positively impacted the buying experience.2 Offering these kinds of solutions that help consumers address affordability early on is a clear path forward for dealers, who must remember to go easy on friction without sacrificing security.

With the right use of data, dealers can elevate the journeys of auto shoppers by personalizing the user experience and offering reduced, connected and secure steps

Prefilling application forms and verifying application data help reduce abandonment rates and move shoppers through the experience faster, while prequalification lets consumers address affordability thresholds. By creating smooth, friction-right opportunities for engagement, dealers can better avoid losing business to other websites while strengthening customer relationships.

TransUnion can help

Car shopping preferences and expectations will continue to shift in today’s dynamic market, making it critical for dealers to make the right investments in digital retailing capabilities — as they’ll play a pivotal role in determining their success.

TransUnion is committed to helping dealers establish and maintain positive, secure transactions and relationships at every stage of the car buyer’s journey. Contact us today to get started.


2022 Car Buyer Journey Study, Cox Automotive, January 2023
2 TransUnion Auto Consumer Survey, 2023
3 TransUnion Consumer Data

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