When Sonic Automotive had the opportunity to acquire pre-owned car retailer EchoPark, the Fortune 500 company was determined to evolve the online business into a customer-centric car-buying experience that would save both time and money. To achieve this, Sonic Automotive would first have to build a platform that would connect its large network of dealerships and delivery centers across the country, while ensuring the overall experience remained simple for the customer.
On Sonic Automotive’s old website there was no payment feature or even the ability to begin the purchase process—all customers could do was look at pictures. “We wanted to enable customers to buy a car soup to nuts online—find the car, value the trade-in, receive financing, sign paperwork, and pay for the car, all on the website,” says Steve Wittman, Sonic Automotive’s chief digital officer. “We were looking for a partner to securely take high-risk payments. This isn't a $12 T-shirt; it's a $30,000 car. So we wanted to find a reputable partner that was easy to integrate into our site and had strong security. Stripe met all those needs.”
Stripe Connect enables Sonic Automotive to let customers make payments directly to individual delivery centers. It’s important for regulatory and financial reporting to tie each sale directly to the delivery center the car was received. “We needed to figure out how to get the appropriate funds to the appropriate stores, and Stripe helped us tremendously with that,” says Wittman.
Sonic Automotive uses Stripe Financial Connections to instantly verify and retrieve permissioned data from more than 90% of US bank accounts, while letting users securely connect their financial information in seconds to improve payments. The company wanted to give customers all their preferred payment options, including debit, credit, ACH, and digital wallets such as Google Pay and Apple Pay. “Stripe Financial Connections enabled us to perform instant account verifications and balance checks, because when you're selling a $30,000 car, you want to make sure that the customer actually has the money to pay for it,” says Wittman.
Sonic knew it had to quickly build an online presence. “Stripe helped us get there. If we had to spend weeks figuring out payments, we would not have launched on time,” says Wittman.
Sonic Automotive partnered with Stripe to create a flexible payments platform that offered customers the ability to access a national inventory of cars and pick up their purchase at a nearby location.
30% of total sales volume generated online
When Sonic Automotive launched EchoPark, its sales were limited by geography—customers still had to find and purchase local vehicles. Sonic Automotive was able to use Stripe’s secure payments to open access to online purchases. Now, vehicles can be shipped to customers across the US, so a broader audience has an even larger inventory available.
Sonic Automotive is seeing more and more volume through its online buy flow, which is enabled by Stripe. Customers are able to get their car shipped closer to them, which is helping the company grow its volume as a result.
Sonic Automotive sold about $60 million in cars online in the first nine months since it launched. “We've gone from a business that had zero in online car sales a year ago, to one that is on track to sell over $200 million dollars in cars online by the end of 2023,” says Wittman.
A holistic approach to payment methods
Stripe replaces the need for multiple vendors and allows Sonic Automotive to focus on more of the core issues that impact its competitive advantage.
“One of the reasons we chose Stripe was the easy integration. It was very simple and turnkey; we haven't had any issues,” says Wittman. “We found that Stripe could meet all our needs. It wasn't just debit and credit cards, but ACH, as well. It’s a one-stop shop. It was one integration, one contract, one set of fees. It was just much easier for us.”
Moving forward, Sonic Automotive’s goal is to have an EchoPark delivery center or a hub within 25 miles of 90% of the US population.
Today, we're seeing that about 55% of the cars we sell online are actually shipped from a different location. Customers can buy a car online using Stripe and have that car shipped to a delivery center near them. Without Stripe, that transaction would not have been possible.