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Digital Retail for Car Dealers: What You Need to Know

By October 24, 2022Digital Retail
Digital Retail for Car Dealers: What You Need to Know
Digital Retail for Car Dealers: What You Need to Know

Digital Retail has dramatically changed the car buying experience for both customers and dealerships. We take an in-depth look at most important questions surrounding Digital Retail in this edition of DealerOn University.

Digital Retail for Car Dealers: What You Need to Know

Digital Retail solutions are transforming the way dealerships gather leads and sell vehicles.

Digital retail is in high demand for car buyers. Their expectations have evolved, and they are demanding robust digital features that emulate the in-store experience and can be accessed anytime, anywhere. This surge in demand has resulted in an influx of digital retail tools into the market, with varying degrees of success.

These digital retail applications are not simple “plug and play” widgets that can be installed on your website and forgotten about. Digital retail solutions are going to dramatically change the way customers interact with your website, while simultaneously changing the way you interact with your customers.

Car buyers will be handing over leads with much more detail than a run-of-the mill contact form, and in many cases, agree to a carefully crafted offer based on your available lenders, special offers, and finance packages. Deciding on a digital retail solution requires the same kind of research your customers are putting into their vehicle purchases.


We’re here to give you all the information you need before embarking on your digital retail journey. Let’s start by addressing some of the most common questions when it comes to digital retail for dealerships.

Does Digital Retail mean customers buy vehicles online?

Digital Retail for car dealerships means that a car buyer can complete most of the car purchasing process online. While there are a few digital retailing experiences out there that allow customers to complete the entire vehicle purchase process online, we’ve found that it’s best to allow the customers to do most of the heavy lifting at their convenience and then finalize the sale in-store.

There are a few critical reasons for this distinction. Most car customers, especially pre-owned customers, are not going to lock themselves into a large purchase without seeing the vehicle up close, sitting in it, and taking it for a test drive. Even new vehicle buyers will want to sit in a floor model and take a test drive in a similar model before signing on the dotted line and placing an order. In a recent Capitol One report, 82% of car buyers stated that they prefer a hybrid online and in-person approach to buying a car.


Digital Retail solutions are going to dramatically change the way customers interact with your website, while simultaneously changing the way you interact with your customers.


Another reason you don’t necessarily want customers purchasing vehicles entirely online is that you will lose out on valuable upselling opportunities.

By leaving a little bit of wiggle room in the sales process, you allow your sales staff to do what they have been trained to do and give customers the opportunity to try out the premium or limited edition of the vehicle they are looking for. Perhaps after a quick test-ride they are convinced that the extra horsepower or roomier model will be worth the extra money. You won’t have those chances if you don’t allow the customers to see and drive the vehicles once they get into the store.

Now that we’ve gone over what Digital Retail does, and does not mean for car dealerships, let’s take a look at whether car buyers actually want to create their vehicle offers online.

Do car buyers want Digital Retail solutions?

The high level of detail and in-depth features of Digital Retail apps may seem like a headache for car customers but make no mistake, Digital Retail is the preferred way for most customers, especially younger customers, to create their vehicle offers. According to a recent study by Cox Automotive, “80% of consumers say that they want to do at least part of their vehicle purchase online.”

The desire for convenience and transparency in the car buying experience is an upward trend, not some fly-by-night fad that will disappear. You do not want to miss out on leads simply because you don’t offer the same quality of digital car shopping experience as your competitors.


“80% of consumers say that they want to do at least part of their vehicle purchase online.”  Cox Automotive


The vehicle offer creation process evolving into a digital experience is not something that should be avoided, but embraced.

Allowing customers to create offers at their convenience helps mitigate a substantial portion of the anxiety many car buyers have about purchasing a vehicle. Many potential buyers prefer to avoid spending too much time in a dealership, haggling over financing, and filling out paperwork in-person. Giving these customers the option to craft vehicle offers at their leisure gives you more opportunities for leads that generate sales.

There have been several studies that show Digital Retail solutions are going to be critical to the success of your dealership, now and in the future. A Deloitte study conducted in September 2020 sampled more than 2000 recent car buyers to determine which parts of the process they would like to do online instead of in person.

  • 78% want to determine the final price of their vehicle
  • 75% want to value their trade-in vehicle
  • 74% want online credit checks and financing
  • 73% want to review and purchase insurance or extended warranties
  • 76% want to schedule an appointment to receive/take possession of the car

These figures all point to a customer base demanding Digital Retail solutions, and it’s up to your dealership to provide a robust, user-friendly solution that enables car buyers to create a deal that works for both parties.

Ready for the ultimate Digital Retail solution?
Schedule your Apex Digital Retail demo today!


How can your dealership provide a quality Digital Retail experience?

Providing a quality Digital Retail experience means that a customer should be able to engage with your store in a variety of spaces and receive a unified journey that ends with the customer ready to purchase a vehicle. They should be able to find your special offers, engage with your website, and walk into the dealership ready to buy.

You can no longer afford to simply use your website as a glorified car lot. Customers won’t be completing the entire sales process online, but they must be able to perform significant parts of it digitally, at their convenience. Whether a car buyer is engaging with your dealership in-person or online, each point needs access to data available across your marketing channels.

Shopper using phone.

Your customers must be able to create their vehicle offers anytime, anywhere.

The modern car buyer requires a convenient, easy-to-use, self-guided approach to purchases, which is where your Digital Retail solution needs to shine.

Digital Retail experiences must allow customers to configure a wide variety of lease and finance offers based on their unique needs, such as their credit ratings, down payment availability, and trade-in amount. When customers provide this level of detail up front, it allows Digital Retail services to calculate and present the best options available for each customer based on their individual needs.

To provide a high level of service and allow the customer to feel comfortable handing over sensitive information, your Digital Retail experience needs to meet certain criteria:

  • The application must be backed by real-time pricing, incentives, and tax data unique to your region.
  • A Digital Retail experience needs to be user-friendly in order to ease the customer through the offer creation process.
  • The entire pricing process needs to be available to the customer. This includes features such as trade evaluations, test-drive scheduling, and aftermarket options.

It is important to note and make clear to consumers that Digital Retail leads are not legally binding until your dealership reviews them and the offers are signed. A Digital Retail offer will still require the customer to come into your store, review the paperwork, and sign on the dotted line.

Which Digital Retail solution is right for your dealership?

Finding the right Digital Retail solution is going to be critical to the success of your dealership’s digital marketing efforts. A poor experience for your customers will cost you hard-earned leads.

One of the major issues that can hamper a Digital Retail experience is a lack of transparency in the offer creation process. When a customer goes through the offer creation process, they will be entering detailed information and making their way through a multitude of menu options.

Customers must be able to track their information and view any changes to their offer in real-time, and update their information if they’ve made an error. Digital Retail applications must provide ways for users to correct their mistakes, as well as clearly showing the information they’ve previously entered in the process.


One of the major issues that can hamper a Digital Retail experience is a lack of transparency in the offer creation process.


The design of a Digital Retail application is going to be critical to a successful offer creation process for your customers. This doesn’t mean the app needs to “look pretty”, although a well-designed experience will be a major factor in establishing trust with the customer.

Your Digital Retail application must be easy to use, with clear language and explanations throughout the process, up to and including the final offer summary. Digital Retail solutions must be put through a rigorous testing process with a wide variety of people to ensure your customers are not left feeling like they have wasted their valuable time and energy with your store.

Apex Digital Retail Summary Screen

Apex Digital Retail presents car buyers with a clear summary of all their offer information, including taxes and fees.

A quality Digital Retail solution is going to use easy to understand language and a step-by-step process that gently leads the customer through the entire process.

If an application is simply presenting customers with what seems like a never-ending string of questions, they will quickly lose interest. The application needs to say why they are asking for the information and explain to them the benefits of providing that information. Any gaps in the process that cause frustration on part of the customer will very likely result in them abandoning the process altogether.

In addition to being well-designed, easy-to-use, and thoroughly tested, Digital Retail experiences must be fully integrated with the data powering your website. This means that your Digital Retail solution has access to special offers, incentives and any unique landing pages related to them.

The experience should not feel tacked on; it should be a natural, seamless experience for the end user that fits cleanly into the design and layout of your unique online experience.

The DealerOn Digital Retail solution

In order to provide you and your customers with an ideal Digital Retail experience, we have developed Apex Digital Retail, and it will supercharge the way you gather leads and sell vehicles.

Apex seamlessly integrates directly into your DealerOn website. Once your customers select a vehicle, they can use the Apex Digital Retail tool to design a custom payment plan suited to their unique needs. By designing these payment plans, the cost of the vehicle becomes tangible to the customer, and they will integrate that cost into their household budget. A customer won’t necessarily grasp what a $30,000 MSRP means to them but can easily factor $500 into their monthly budget.

The Apex responsive application intelligence deployed in the payment-creation process gives the customer complete control, eliminating any confusion that can come with the vehicle offer process. They can easily return to previous sections and update financial and trade-in information whenever necessary.

Apex Digital Retail

Apex Digital Retail will take your customers through the offer creation process with an intuitive step-by-step system.

Each stage of the Apex process is gradual, with the application asking for small pieces of information throughout the process. By allowing customers to steadily make their way through the application, instead of asking for all their critical information up front (which can be overwhelming and cause them to abandon the process), you increase the likelihood of the customer completing the offer.

At the end of this step-by-step process, you get a detailed, actionable lead provided by a customer ready to purchase a vehicle.

Apex Digital Retail Features


Full Website Integration – Cohesive payment-based experience that integrates with every stage of the vehicle shopping experience. Payments are transparent at every stage of the process no matter where the customer is on your website.

  • PriceStak Payments – DealerOn websites are equipped with PriceStak payments, a fully customizable pricing system that works in conjunction with Apex Digital Retail. This means that all your payment information from your search results, vehicle details, and special offer landing pages are playing by the same rules and pulling data from a single source of truth through the PriceStak system.
  • Homepage Engagement – A customer’s primary concern is monthly payment, and we’ve made it simple for them to find their ideal vehicle with our Shop-By-Budget homepage widget. As soon as customers land on your website, they are given the option to browse your lot with their budget in mind, allowing them to quickly identify vehicles of interest and begin to create their offers.
  • Compliance and Customization – Brand your digital retail experience while adhering to the same pricing, verbiage, and style compliance standards required by your OEM and utilized by your website.
  • Dynamic Disclaimers – Designed to fully comply with OEM style and compliance guidelines. Disclaimers within the Apex application automatically update based upon the selections of the customer during their session. Our design ensures that all compliance rules are met.
  • Compliant Design – The Apex design pulls directly from OEM-approved site templates. This ensures visual elements such as buttons and colors match the overall look and feel of the site while maintaining strict adherence to your OEM compliance standards.

Upselling Options – Position F&I and accessories offerings directly into Apex. Give your customers the ability to explore warranty service contracts and accessorize their vehicle at their leisure.

  • F&I Integration – Apex seamlessly provides VIN-specific, state-specific, and dealer-specific third-party F&I contracts to customers by integrating with F&I Express. These contracts include Total Warranty and Maintenance service contracts that directly increase your bottom-line profit margin.
  • Accessories – Sell vehicle accessories directly through the Apex Digital Retail application. Car buyers can browse vehicle accessories, view them on their vehicle using an advanced 3D interface, and add them to their final vehicle offer, including labor rates. (Sold separately)

Data-driven Design – Market-tested to ensure an ideal user experience for the modern car buyer. The Apex design visually connects tasks and information in a way that shoppers perceive as most critical to personalizing their offer.

  • Exceptional Performance – Apex loads asynchronously with the page. There are no iframes to load or site redirection to slow down the application.
  • Transparent Communication – Clearly provides information through all phases of the customer’s journey, encouraging engagement and eliminating surprises at the dealership.
  • Self-Guided Control – Provides customers with flexibility and control over the most critical aspects of their offer creation. Customers can engage with optional functionality, such as pre-qualification, or submit the bare minimum. The choice is theirs.
  • Data Persistence – Apex personalizes the customer experience by persisting down payment, credit, and zip code (used for tax purposes) within the application.
  • Predictive Cash Incentive Selection – Incentive titles provided by the captive OEM financial institution are long and confusing. Apex incentive selection simplifies this messaging. We display, “Do any of these apply to you?” “Military,” “Recent College Grad,” “First Responder”, along with customer loyalty rebates.
  • Persistent Deal Summary (Quick View) – A persistent offer summary including detailed disclaimer information is provided one click away in the header of the Apex modal. This summary dynamically builds along with customer choices and works to provide situational awareness when needed. This works in conjunction with the Apex modal header and payment which dynamically updates throughout the sessions.
  • Promote Continued Action – Timesaving dialogue is used to encourage customers through their session. (Example: “You’re saving hours at the dealer.”)
  • Offer Summary – Clearly breaks down all financing, taxes, fees, and options that were selected by the customer.

Fully-loaded with Features for Customers – A wide range of features and options that enable you to give your customers a unique car buying experience.

  • Trade Valuation – Choose from KBB or TradePending trade-in tools when you set up your Apex integration.
  • At-Home Test Drives – Customers can schedule an at-home test drive directly within their Apex session through the Draiver add-on. (Sold separately)
  • Collaborate w/ Deal Links – Permalink that allows customers to share their personalized offer with anyone, including your dealership, for extended conversations about the offer.
  • Lightweight Credit Application Solution – Apex includes an optional Pre-Approval Credit Application. Customers can get started online and save time at the dealer.
  • Non-Captive Vehicle Financing – This optional feature provides you with alternate financing options for new and used inventory.
  • Multi-Bank Offer Shopping – Customers expect competitive rates and prefer that financial institutions compete for their business. Offer Shopping improves engagement and choice by providing tools for customers to select between multiple finance and lease options. Customers can search multiple offers based on Lowest Monthly Payment, Total Payment, APR, and Offer Total, and then select amongst all available finance options (both captive and non-captive) within that range.
  • Dealertrack Integration – The Apex Dealertrack integration connects dealers and customers with live deal funding and contracting through Dealertrack, providing customers with the ability to complete their credit application and applicable paperwork to initiate a final contract with the dealer. Note: the offer generated via this integration is not contractually binding until approved by your dealership. No eSignature or desking activities are occurring within Apex. (Sold separately)

Full Pricing Control – Robust pricing configuration features and options mean you can tailor your pricing experience to your local market’s unique needs and considerations.

  • Localized for Accurate Taxes, Title, Registration & Fees – Utilizing the customer zip code, Apex sets the monthly vehicle payment to include taxes based on the shopper’s location. Once the customer provides their zip code, all elements of the offer are localized for tax, registration, and fees.
  • Tax Data Calculations – Apex complies with all local taxation formulas that are different within local municipalities.
  • Documentation/Processing Fees – Allows you to add additional fees clearly presented to the customer within the deal summary.
  • Pricing Goal Alignment – Default terms utilize inventory, configurations, and live financial data to produce accurate and consistent payment and pricing information across the entire omni-channel ecosystem.
  • Default Credit Rating/Score – Sets the default credit rating that is applied to calculate the initial monthly finance or lease price. This allows you to lower the perceived monthly payment/cost of a vehicle or pursue customers with better credit.
  • Default Term Length of Lease/Finance – Sets the default term length that is applied to calculate the initial monthly finance or lease price. Longer payment terms will lower the monthly payment.
  • Default Lease Mileage – Sets the default mileage restrictions that are applied to calculate the initial monthly lease price. Restricting allowable mileage on a lease lowers payments and decreases the vehicle’s depreciation, increasing the off-lease value of the vehicle.
  • OEM Compliant Pricing Configurability – The starting price and deal summary are configurable to ensure strict compliance with OEM rules.


Schedule your Apex Digital Retail demo today

Selling vehicles in a digital world means engaging customers wherever and whenever they are shopping, while allowing them to configure vehicle offers with a dynamic, user-friendly solution that seamlessly integrates into your website experience.

Third-party Digital Retail solutions will struggle to provide the same level of service as Apex Digital Retail because they are self-contained systems disconnected from the data powering your website. The connectivity between your website, inventory, and pricing data makes Apex the ideal digital retail solution for your dealership.

With Apex, you are giving your customers a streamlined, convenient, hassle-free car buying experience while you acquire leads and customers ready to buy.

Schedule your demo today and we will show you exactly how Apex Digital Retail will modernize your website experience by giving your customers the freedom to build unique vehicle offers at their convenience.

Learn More About Apex Digital Retail

Author Sean Kerndt

Marketing Strategist for the automotive industry, with over 20 years of design & marketing experience. He spent much of his childhood in a dealership training room watching Robocop on a projector.

More posts by Sean Kerndt

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