The dealership group may not discuss it publicly very often or show its hand. But don’t be mistaken.
Asbury Automotive Group is working on — and investing in — its digital capabilities.
“We all agree this industry is changing, and it’s changing very rapidly. And so are we. We are not very public about what we are doing to change our business, but I assure you that we are making investments every day in technology and the Web and our digital capabilities,” Asbury chief executive officer Craig Monaghan said in the retailer’s latest quarterly earnings call.
“And those investments are baked in our SG&A. So, rather than a big one-off, it’s just something that we’re doing quarter to quarter. The investments are all about improving the customer experience and expediting the sales process,” Monaghan said. “We actually believe that many of the new entrants that are coming to our space are, they’re actually doing the right thing. We admire some of the moves that they’re making, but I would also say that many of the things that you see them doing (are) happening in our stores already.”
In fact, Asbury has had a 25-person in-house digital marketing team for close to two years, Monaghan said. He credits this team a great deal for helping to lift internally generated Internet leads by 37 percent in 2016.
Digital accounts for three-quarters of Asbury’s ad spend, he said.
What’s more, Asbury had 130-percent more website visitors in Q1 than it did a year ago, Monaghan said, and 5 percent of unit sales for the quarter started in the “PUSHSTART” online sales tool.
“And I’d encourage you to go to one of our websites in all of our stores, look at a particular vehicle and click on the button that says ‘buy online.’ And it will take you to our PUSHSTART tool and you will see an online sales process that in many ways is very similar to what you see Carvana doing,” he said.
It doesn’t offer the entire transaction process online, given that many states still need ink signatures, “but it is a huge step in the right direction,” Monaghan said.
While online sales are growing rapidly, it’s not just cars; Monaghan said close to a quarter of Asbury’s parts and service visits are set up online.
“We’re all about ROI. Sometimes that means we buy stores; sometimes that means we buy stock. But the first place we spend money is always in the stores and on technology that we think we need to have in place to grow our business in the future,” he said.
Monaghan added: “We think there’s an opportunity to blend this digital world with the traditional brick-and-mortar world, and those are the things that we’re working on.”