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Commentary & Voices

Keeping the Momentum: What’s Ahead for Digital Wholesale in 2021


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The step change to all-digital wholesale in 2020 drove the industry forward in a way none of us could have predicted. What would have normally taken us years as an industry to reach, we achieved overnight. But we know that the transition was harder for some than others, and that’s why we focused much of the year on making digital wholesale as easy as possible so clients could keep their businesses moving forward. 

At Manheim, we took a 360 approach to improve the client experience and accomplished many important goals around new policies to support digital buying and selling, as well as improving condition reports and vehicle imaging. Even with safely re-opening many of our locations for in-person sales, we ended the year with 81% of all sales in 2020 going to digital buyers (up from 48% in 2019!). Today, dealers are telling us they are joining more digital sales at more locations because they can do it safely and easily from their desk or mobile device. 

Now that we – and our clients – know what’s possible with digital wholesale, it’s on us as an industry to make it preferable to buy and sell online. But we want to be clear: we’re not making a push toward digital-only, but instead toward an omnichannel client experience, bringing together the best of our physical, digital and mobile capabilities.  

COVID-19 briefly taking away the ability to preview cars in person highlighted exactly how much more information dealers want and need in a digital world. While many of us on the wholesale side have introduced new imaging and video technologies in the last couple of years, there’s still room for improvement across the board. We’re hearing the feedback, and we’re acting on it quickly. 

As we move into that future, it’s no secret that the greatest and most immediate needs are around vehicle information – providing better condition reports, photos and more details about vehicles pre-purchase. The need for better condition information is one reason Cox Automotive acquired Fyusion, one of the world’s leading computer vision and AI companies, and we can’t wait to show you what’s to come in the months ahead. 

In the meantime, we’re proud of the many enhancements we rolled out to clients in 2020 – from more than doubling the number of images in condition reports to new guarantees, better policies and a number of new features to make it easier for both buyers and sellers to conduct business online. We created new connections between Manheim Express and Simulcast, as well as time-saving integrations with vAuto. We also launched the new VolkswagenDirect and AudiDirect stores, giving our buyers better access to even more great inventory. 

A Prediction for 2021

Keeping the momentum going in digital wholesale will hinge on solving some of the biggest client pain points that 2020 amplified. I firmly believe that better vehicle information, along with more consistent condition reports, are the keys to giving clients the trustworthy digital experience they crave – and that’s exactly where we’re focusing in 2021. 

While 2020 taught us that the future is hard to anticipate, I feel confident in making this one prediction: 2021 will be the year that more buyers and sellers choose digital because it will be easier, more efficient and offer more peace of mind than ever before. 

Zach Hallowell is senior vice president of Manheim Digital.

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