Hands up if you’re one of the countless people who is a fiend for online shopping. With the growth of companies like Amazon, more and more people are turning to the internet to avoid stepping foot in stores. Now, that mentality is beginning to make its way into the car industry.
Going to dealerships, shopping around, haggling over your price, and dealing with pushy salespeople has been putting people off car buying for just about ever—I can’t count the number of family members who always brought someone else along when they went car buying to make sure they wouldn’t be intimidated into a bad deal or a car they didn’t really want.
There was a time when physically shopping around and haggling was the way folks purchased all of their big ticket items, from televisions to furniture. The internet has made that whole process easier, quickly letting you compare prices from multiple sites at the same time. And it’s for items that someone will bring straight to your door.
People are now looking for a similar ease in purchasing their cars, as The Wall Street Journal reports. Tesla is currently the only company selling directly to their customers rather than using a third-party dealership, but it’s not alone in moving away from the traditional dealer model. Manufacturers like Cadillac, Porsche, and BMW are offering car subscription systems that bypass the buying process, allowing subscribers to pay a base fee that allows them the freedom to swap their car for a different one as many times as the system allows. Subscriptions can be done online—the dealership, then, becomes a place where you simply pick up or drop off your vehicle.
That and used vehicle sites like Carvana are popping up more and more frequently because used cars don’t need to be sold through a franchised dealership. You can do your dealership hopping right from the comfort of your couch.
We don’t have much data yet on how how many cars are bought online or how many dealerships offer the online option, given how new the industry is. And, y’know, each state and website has its own car buying rules, which means there still isn’t one sweeping definition for “online car buying.” Tesla has tried to take its fight for direct buying to many states, challenging their idea of what it means to do business. In Texas, long legal battles have essentially barred Tesla sales—staff in the state can’t offer anyone a test drive, quote a price, or direct potential buyers to the website. The market has been resistant to change. (Though it’s not always perfect on the new side of things.)
Many current companies offer ways around the hurdles of this new kind of car buying. Carvana’s return policy makes it easy to get rid of a car that you’re not happy with. Shift, an SF-based online delivery service, will drop off your chosen car for a test drive and complete your purchasing paperwork on the spot if you’re happy with what you have. But it’s still largely a new market, which means we’re likely to see more innovation if more folks show an interest in skipping the dealership.
Penske offers something called an “online express store,” where you can do just about everything on the internet, from securing financing to arranging delivery. All you have to do in person is sign some papers. Tesla sells directly to customers on its website. And on top of all that, even the areas that still require you to purchase cars in person often see a large amount of online research and price comparison before anyone secures a purchase.
Given the demand for online shopping, it’s a market that’s likely to start expanding in the near future as more and more companies take the plunge—no matter how badly dealerships still want to get customers in the door.