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Master Automotive Digital Retailing: Enhance Your Car Dealership's Website

By Amanda Pliskow | Jan 25, 2024

Last updated on May 10, 2024

Consumers researching their next vehicle purchase spend most of their time fact-finding online, so your website needs to be a helpful source of information to keep people engaged. To remain competitive, automotive dealerships must not only embrace digital retailing, but also make it a consistent part of their sales strategy.

Your dealership's website is more than an information hub - it's a crucial tool for educating customers on your inventory, finance and insurance options, pricing and more. Being transparent online can help you reach sales targets, retain your sales team and stay ahead of the competition.

Let's talk more about how to implement best practices on your website to drive traffic, improve customer engagement and increase sales conversions.

Download the Free Guide: How Top Dealerships Are Evolving Their F&I Process →

Key Elements of an Effective Car Dealer Website

Think of your website like a virtual showroom. Aesthetics, experiences, selection and choice matter. Let's look at how those things play a role in your online and in-store operations to help you create a winning website

  • Aesthetics matter. An eye-catching, professionally designed site can pique interest and encourage exploration. The real key to success is to balance attractive visuals and intuitive navigation. Your website should offer easy and logical pathways to inventory listings, specials, finance options, service appointments and more.
  • Going mobile is not optional. With more than half of web traffic coming from mobile devices, your dealership website needs to provide a seamless experience for smartphone and tablet users. Loading speed, responsive design and mobile-friendly navigation are non-negotiable.
  • Don't underestimate SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Your prospective buyers are likely to start their car shopping journey with a Google search. So, make sure your site is optimized for relevant keywords and incorporates elements like meta tags and alt tags for images.
  • Think beyond inventory. Complete, accurate and detailed information about your vehicle stock is a must-have. But simply listing the car's make, model and price just won't do. High-quality images, videos and virtual tours can bring the vehicle to life for online shoppers.
  • Make the next step easy. Clear, compelling calls-to-action (CTAs) are the cornerstones of a dealer website. Whether it's a button to schedule a test drive, apply for financing or check out the latest deals, your CTAs should guide visitors through the buying journey, right to the checkout page.
  • Transparency builds trust. Make sure your website showcases customer reviews and testimonials. Positive feedback can reassure potential buyers about the quality of your vehicles and services, and when things don’t go well, show people you engage and make it right by addressing feedback, not hiding it.
  • Be helpful and informative. Educational blogs, vehicle comparison guides, finance calculators and service tips can position your dealership as a helpful resource, giving shoppers another reason to choose you over competitors. 

In essence, a dealer website is not just about selling cars. It's about providing value, building relationships, and enhancing the car shopping experience in the digital realm.

Understanding Automotive Digital Retailing

The goal of automotive digital retailing is creating the online equivalent of your physical dealership, bringing together every step of the car buying journey into one place. The magic of this concept lies in its ability to break down geographical barriers, allowing customers to engage with your dealership from anywhere.

They can explore your collection of vehicles in stunning detail, negotiate prices digitally, enjoy a virtual test drive, secure online financing and even get their vehicle delivered to their doorstep if they choose. And while most buyers opt for a combination of an online and in-store transaction, a robust digital experience allows them to pick and choose their preferred path to purchase.

But there's more to digital retailing than convenience and efficiency. For many shoppers, the beauty of buying a car online is the absence of the pressure cooker environment often found in traditional dealerships. They have the freedom to browse your inventory at their leisure, compare different models, and make well-informed decisions about their purchase.
Remember, it isn't about removing human interaction from the car buying process; it's about enhancing it.

Consider a virtual F&I process, where buyers can complete their purchase with the help of a knowledgeable finance manager from anywhere. In this situation, the customer feels at ease and in control, and your dealership has the benefit of taking deals in new ways, boosting efficiency and productivity.

While your sales team may not be in the same room as your customers, their impact on the buying journey remains crucial. The result? A more streamlined, satisfying and personalized car buying experience for your customers, potentially leading to increased loyalty and sales for your dealership.

In a nutshell, automotive digital retailing is a powerful fusion of technology and customer-centricity. But setting it up isn't enough. Next, let's review how to incorporate e-commerce into your sales strategy.

Strategies for Successful Automotive E-commerce

Unlocking success in automotive e-commerce calls for a razor-sharp focus on a few key strategies:


Commitment to the Customer

First and foremost is a steadfast commitment to the customer at every touchpoint on your website. Each feature and piece of content should be crafted to serve their needs, answer their questions and guide them smoothly through their buying journey.


Pricing Transparency

Pricing transparency is a vital element of a successful dealership. No one appreciates hidden costs or surprise fees, so it’s crucial to provide clear, upfront pricing information in your e-commerce operations. This builds trust and accelerates the buying process as your customers won't have to wait for a quote or go back and forth with your sales team.



Personalization is another powerful tool to captivate your online audience. From car recommendations based on browsing history to tailored finance options, small touches can make a big difference in the customer experience. With advanced data analytics and machine learning, you can now understand your customers better than ever before and offer a truly customized shopping experience.


Seamless Online-to-Offline Experience

A seamless online-to-offline experience is the cherry on top of a great automotive e-commerce strategy. While digital retailing is taking center stage, many customers still appreciate the option of finalizing their purchase in-store or taking a real test drive before making the final decision. Your website should facilitate this transition smoothly and integrate with your in-store processes, taking into account customer preferences and expectations, whether it is for sales, service or F&I.

Ultimately, success in automotive e-commerce hinges on the delicate balance of technology, transparency, customer-centricity and seamless processes. When executed well, these strategies can transform your dealership into a powerhouse of automotive digital retailing.

Case Studies and Success Stories

There's no better way to understand the power of digital retailing than by looking at real-world examples. Let's take a peek into some JM&A Group success stories that illustrate how automotive dealerships have transformed their processes to enable profitability growth and customer satisfaction. 

Virtual F&I is helping dealers of all sizes solve their staffing challenges, enable teams to be more effective, improve the customer experience and broaden their capacity to offer F&I in an increasingly digital buying market. 

Major PVR increase for Lindsay Automotive

Lindsay Automotive Group sought to implement Virtual F&I to enable fully online transactions in 2018, well ahead of the industry’s interest in fully digital vehicle purchases.

This transition was a way for Lindsay to advance their customer strategy and create a seamless, convenient buyer’s journey. JM&A Group took a measured, intentional approach to the rollout, clearly communicating and ensuring each person had the time and tools they needed to be successful. By implementing Virtual F&I, they were able to achieve fantastic results: 

YOY PVR Increase

YOY PPD Increase

Deal completion and gross sales rise for Hall Automotive Group

Like many auto groups operating several stores with varying levels of traffic and sales volume, Hall Automotive had a resourcing and customer service challenge, two problems Virtual F&I can help solve. 

With a centralized approach and JM&A Group’s help, Hall established a Virtual F&I office at its corporate headquarters that could assist any storefront on demand and deliver a flexible financing experience for customers. 

With an engaged workforce, Hall’s F&I managers adopted best practices to streamline their approach to F&I, which had a major impact on important metrics: 


YOY Overall F&I Gross Increase

YOY Deal Completion Increase

Bergstrom Automotive drives customer experience for out-of-town buyers

Bergstrom, which operates in a rural market, showcases how dealerships everywhere can step up their performance and customer experience with an infusion of new ideas.

Creating a convenient, accessible buying option was key, especially as many of the dealers’ customers simply lived too far to make trips to the dealership. A Remote Virtual F&I model suited the dealer group’s needs for an enhanced customer experience and has proven to be a win-win. It improved their ability to make sales and made customers more comfortable during remote transactions, having ample time to ask questions and decide what products to purchase, all from the comfort of their home.

The results showed in customers’ happiness with the F&I experience: 

of VFI customers are satisfied
and would use the process again

These stories highlight the potential of automotive digital retailing processes. Dealerships can reach a broader audience, streamline operations and increase sales, while customers enjoy a convenient, stress-free, and personalized car buying experience. While the path to digital retailing will be unique for each dealership, these successes provide some inspiration and insights to help you chart your own course.

Download the Free Guide: How Top Dealerships Are Evolving Their F&I Process →

Implementing Digital Retailing in Your Dealership

So, you're ready to take the leap and bring your dealership into the digital age. Where do you begin? This isn't an overnight endeavor. Creating a rock-solid, customer-centric website takes time and depends on your specific goals. Here are a few to consider prioritizing:

  • Rank higher in search engine results with the support of SEO (Search Engine Optimization). More visibility means more potential customers discovering your dealership.
  • Don't forget the power of mobile! Make sure your website delivers a seamless experience on all devices, whether it's a desktop, tablet, or smartphone.
  • Be interactive. There are some extraordinary tools that can take the online car shopping experience to a whole new level, including online chat support, where you can provide real-time assistance to your visitors, just like your sales team would in your physical showroom.
  • Finance is often a sticking point in the car buying process, but with digital retailing, you can smooth out the bumps. Offering online financing options speeds up the buying process, provides added convenience to your customers and educates them on available options.
  • Remember that compliance is key. Keep abreast of all current laws and regulations related to online retailing to ensure your dealership doesn't cross any legal lines, and make sure to consult with your legal counsel before implementing any significant changes to your processes.

Implementing digital retailing isn't a one-off task. It's an ongoing process of learning, adapting, and improving. Always keep your finger on the pulse of your customers' needs and technological advancements. By doing so, your dealership won't just be keeping up with the times, it will be setting new standards.

Challenges and Solutions in Automotive Retail

As exciting as the world of automotive digital retailing is, it’s not without its share of challenges. It's essential to navigate these hurdles strategically to keep your dealership ahead of the game.

One of the main challenges faced by dealerships transitioning into digital retail is finding the right technology solutions that integrate seamlessly into their existing infrastructure. The solution lies in partnering with a reliable technology provider who understands the unique needs of automotive dealerships and can provide tailor-made digital solutions.

Data security is another concern. As more transactions and interactions move online, ensuring customer information is protected is paramount. Investing in robust security measures such as SSL certificates for your website and educating customers about safe online practices can go a long way in building trust and confidence.

In the race to digitize, don’t forget the human touch. While customers appreciate the convenience of online shopping, many still value personal interactions when making significant purchases like a car.

Offering top-notch customer service, both online and offline, remains crucial. Make use of tools like live chat, video calls and personalized emails to maintain that connection.

The solution lies in partnering with a reliable technology provider who understands the unique needs of automotive dealerships and can provide tailor-made digital solutions.

The shifting regulatory landscape in digital retail can also be challenging to keep up with. Compliance with laws related to online retail, data protection and digital finance is essential to avoid hefty penalties and reputational damage. Staying updated on the latest regulations and seeking legal counsel when in doubt can help you navigate any uncertainty.

While many automotive dealerships might find these challenges daunting, remember that every challenge is an opportunity in disguise. By addressing these issues head-on and providing innovative solutions, your dealership can establish itself as a leader in the digital retail space. After all, it’s not just about selling cars; it’s about delivering a memorable and satisfying car buying experience.

Conclusion and Next Steps

The digital age has brought a wave of change in automotive retail. To thrive, dealerships must harness the power of online retailing. This is not an optional path, but a necessary journey - one that could lead your dealership to increased customer satisfaction, broader reach and higher sales.

Evaluate existing online presenceIdentify your website's strengths and weaknesses
Plan to align dealership goals and customer expectationsEvolve and adapt to customer needs, technology and regulations

Start your digital transformation by evaluating your existing online presence. Identify the strengths and weaknesses, noting the look and feel, ease of navigation, SEO and seamless experiences. The best way to do this is to look at your website like a customer would and let that be your guide.

Then chart your path forward. Create a plan that aligns with your dealership's goals and customer expectations. And most importantly, don’t stop there. Digital retail evolves with your customers' needs, technology and regulations.

Invest in the right resources, both human and technological. From a robust IT team to reliable partners, it's important to have the right people on your side to turn your digital dreams into reality. JM&A Group can help you take a holistic look at your business – both online and in-store, and develop the tools and processes to help you achieve your goals.

At the end of the day, automotive digital retailing is more than just a fancy term. It's an opportunity to improve the car buying experience, connect with customers on a deeper level and stay ahead in our fast-paced world. So gear up for an exhilarating ride into the future of car buying. This is your chance to redefine your dealership for the digital age. Are you ready?

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