For nearly a century, the American car dealership has retained its iconic appearance even as technology transformed every corner of the business landscape. In towns across the country, local business titans lured customers to glass-walled showrooms and large asphalt lots, where buyers bargained for the best price. That model is showing its age.
The way people buy and sell cars is changing. More of it is happening online as buyers get comfortable with completing transactions remotely. It is a shift that started before the pandemic but accelerated over the last 18 months as Covid-19 spurred people to do more of their shopping from home and demand for cars unexpectedly surged.
The auto dealership, as a result, could soon look like other parts of the business world upended by e‑commerce. National chains, instead of local small businesses, will set prices and give salespeople less room to haggle. Dealers will hold fewer cars on the lot and operate more like service-and-delivery centers, using their dealerships as hubs where customers can pick up vehicles ordered online and get them serviced.
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