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E-Commerce platform for 100% online car buying

Van Horn’s CloudLot puts customers in full control of picking car, scheduling delivery, everything in between

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February 9, 2023

SHEBOYGAN – Nowadays, it seems like anything can be purchased online – even a car.

And while the concept itself is nothing new, Chief Operating Officer Adam Gaedke said Sheboygan County’s Van Horn Automotive Group has gone above and beyond to embrace e-commerce.

“At Van Horn, selling cars online is nothing new,” he said. “But, being able to go online, pick out a car and completely transact on it without any interaction is now possible.”

Ahead of the curve
Gaedke said this isn’t the first time the 57-year-old automotive group has been “ahead of the curve.”

In fact, he said Van Horn was one of the first to put vehicles on the Internet back in 2006.

Gaedke said Van Horn further elevated its online shopping experience with the introduction of CloudLot by Van Horn Automotive Group, making it the local leader for 100% online digital retail.

“If I want to purchase a car and have it tomorrow, I can get online tonight, pick it out, complete all the documents, verify my identity, choose financing, select warranties and then basically, check out and have the car dropped off tomorrow,” he said.

Gaedke said CloudLot is powered by Cox Automotive’s state-of-the-art Esntial E-Commerce platform – which guides consumers through the entire online buying process with speed, safety and transparency.

He said the “entire online buying process,” means the platform allows consumers to purchase a vehicle with zero human interaction and engagement if desired, just as they would order a pizza or essentials from an online store.

And just like those e-commerce transactions, Gaedke said the end product can be delivered directly to the purchaser’s house – sometimes as soon as within a few hours.

“Not everybody is able to deliver on that,” he said. “That’s why we went with CloudLot. You can say you can buy a car online, but in many cases, it’s not 100% online like this is.”

Gaedke said the convenience factor means everything.

He said one of the fastest turnarounds was a customer who found and bought a vehicle online within about 20 minutes and had it in his driveway three hours later.

Adam Gaedke

Gaedke said it’s that convenience factor that drove Van Horn to take the online shopping model they and others have and evolve it from online shopping to online purchasing.

“Everybody demands convenience,” he said. “This is the next step in delivering on our mission to meet the customer where they are and make it easy for them to do business with us.”

Not the norm
Though the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated many dealerships’ and automotive groups’ efforts to sell online, it’s still not the norm.

According to an October 2022 article in Fortune magazine, only 26% of automakers believe they have adapted well to selling online.

And there is opportunity to be tapped.

According to CarGurus U.S. COVID-19 Sentiment Study, 32% of U.S. car buyers were open to buying online prior to the pandemic – 61% said they are post-COVID.

Gaedke said it’s that customer-first mindset that has taken Van Horn Automotive Group from a dealership in Plymouth to 15 locations and a business model that is the state’s only employee-owned auto group.

Today, he said, Van Horn locations – mostly throughout Wisconsin and into Iowa – carry several well-known automotive brands, including KIA, Chevrolet, Ford, Mazda, Hyundai, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, RAM, Nissan, Volkswagen and Alfa Romeo.

Gaedke said CloudLot is a tool to enable the largely rural-located Van Horn locations to showcase their inventory while broadening their market and expanding their customer base in the process.

Though there are existing digital retailers out there selling vehicles, such as Carvana and Vroom, Van Horn is quick to point out what sets them apart.

“We recognize we can’t compete on a national level like they do, but our differentiator is that we, as a company, were born into the car business, whereas Carvana is a tech company that got into cars,” Ryan Thiel, Van Horn Automotive marketing director, said.

Thiel said that is incredibly important because “credibility and trust are important in this industry.”

“There can be hesitation and anxiety that go with buying online, and while you can do it without human interaction with CloudLot, we also offer a team of people available to coach (customers) if they seek that,” he said.

Thiel said credibility and trust come into play with the vehicles’ service after the sale as well.

Pictured here is the logo for Van Horn Automotive Group’s CloudLot. Submitted Image

“Carvana has cool vending machines, but they don’t have a service center,” he said. “If you purchase a vehicle close to one of our dealerships, we can easily service the vehicle after the purchase.”?

Customer-focused mindset
Gaedke said that’s but one example of how Van Horn keeps the customer experience at the forefront when adopting new technologies and offerings.

He said it has guided the automotive group through several changes over the decades, most recently becoming an automotive group of previously separately managed dealerships in 2014 and an ESOP (Employee Stock Ownership Plan) in 2016.

The ESOP configuration, Gaedke said, has only furthered the automotive group’s focus on tailoring the car buying experience to the customer, and instilling an even higher level of individual ownership for that experience among the group’s 750 employees. 

“There are a couple of ways you can operate a dealership, and one is to build your process around what you want as a dealer group and make the customer fit into that,” he said. “Or, you can offer a (variety) of ways and build processes around how the customer wants to buy.”

As such, Gaedke said whether a prospective customer wants to schedule an appointment on a Saturday to drive eight different cars; cruise dealership lots on Sundays for what’s available and scan cars’ QR codes for more information; do the majority of their legwork online and then come in to drive the vehicle and finalize the purchase; or want to do their entire car buying process online, Van Horn is prepared with options. 

“None of our dealerships are in metro areas, so the only way to pull from outside our areas is to not miss a buyer,” he said. “We don’t have the luxury of being in a metro area where millions show up at our doorstep because we have cars. We work hard to build on our reputation and keep a good reputation through our processes, which need to be flexible.”

Ryan Thiel

Thiel said Van Horn considers itself a progressive auto group that’s always changing with the times.

He said CloudLot offers a means to keep pace with digital-retail-exclusive companies and the trend of customers wanting to do more online, regardless of where they are in the U.S. 

“We buy cars all over the nation and have a network of shippers, so we can deliver a car just about anywhere,” Gaedke said. “We’re not limited to staying in our own backyard or the backyards of our dealerships. It does tend to be within a few hours because of awareness, but if someone in California or Tennessee finds a unique vehicle or hard-to-find vehicle, we can pursue it.”

Though digital purchases of cars is still gaining traction, Gaedke said Van Horn is excited to see where it goes next.

“We expect this will be a movement, one of those things where, as technology and the transparency of transactions improve, people will adapt to it more and more,” he said. “I’ve always believed if we don’t stay ahead, we’re falling behind. We’re ready for the demand (on CloudLot) because we have it figured out from front to back and will continue to refine it.”

For more information on CloudLot, visit shopcloudlot.com/?gmb.

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