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Are You Ready To Buy A Car Online?

Are You Ready to Buy a Car Online?

Here’s What to Expect From Car Buying In the Near Future…

As the Millennial generation is aging and beginning to enter their prime buying years, they are having a profound impact on the way many items are sold. This generation has grown up with an “always-online” mentality, driven in part by the increasing ability to order nearly anything they can possibly imagine from the comfort of their computer screens. Now, as they begin to buy their first vehicles, the car buying landscape is shifting too.

Buying a car online

Pioneers in Digitizing Vehicle Sales

When it comes to car shopping, specifically, a huge factor in the push toward online sales is the lack of stress and high-pressure sales tactics that online shopping provides. Tesla is the ultimate example of this method of purchasing. They do not have many physical dealerships at all – they have “stores” and “galleries,” but not lots – and the car buying process can be done completely online, with the car delivered, often, to the customer’s doorstep.

In states where franchise laws forbid them from direct sales altogether, they have created virtual “showrooms” where there are no cars, but you can do your shopping from a screen in their facility, and there are people on hand to answer questions. However, the entire sales process is still done online.

Tesla is an outlier in the online car sales game, but more and more dealerships and manufacturers recognize the consumer demand to buy a car online is a factor of car sales that growing at a very rapid pace.

What’s Not Online Yet?

For the average consumer, buying the average car or truck, a good chunk of the process can now be done online, but there are still a few holdouts. For instance, the test drive is still a major part of the shopping experience, and there is just no way to truly get a feel for a car by viewing it on a website.

It remains to be seen whether dealers will adopt virtual reality technology to digitize even this step, but for the present time, you’ll still want to actually visit a few different dealerships, from different brands, to test drive the various models and get a feel for which one best suits you and your family’s needs.

The second major part of the buying process that still isn’t online in most cases is the actual signing of the paperwork. To formally take possession and title of your next vehicle, you will still need to physically sign the documentation. And for the most part, the finance and insurance (F&I) portion of the sale is also not yet available online.

For some consumers, this might be a good thing, allowing them to avoid being sold products they feel are a waste of their time and money. On the other hand, for many consumers, extended warranties, service contracts and appearance protection products are not only valuable but critical to securing their investments.

As it stands, if you are one of those consumers who wants to hear more about those products, you’ll have to go into the dealership to find out about them.

How to Buy a Car Online Today

So what exactly can you do online today? The short answer is “everything else.” But what does that really mean?

  • Research: Few car buyers today visit a dealership without having done some amount of research online first. This is a low-hassle, low-stress way to compare features, pricing, financing options and more across every potential car or truck you might be considering.

It is a good way to narrow down the list before doing the test drives — and you should plan to test drive cars from a few different dealerships, once you have it narrowed down — and ensure that when you are ready to negotiate, you know exactly what the pricing should look like, and what others are paying in your area.

This is also one of the best ways to see which dealerships have the specific model you want in stock. You might decide you really like the blue version, with the mid-range trim package. And if Dealership A doesn’t have it, you can contact them to ask whether they will trade with Dealership B to get your unit in stock at the price you want to pay.

One big company looking to make inroads into the research phase of car shopping is online behemoth Amazon, which recently launched Amazon Vehicles. The site offers an Autotrader-style experience, allowing shoppers to use familiar tools to sort by nearly every option imaginable, compare cars across models, and even read reviews. While the sale is still referred to a local dealership, and the service is still fairly limited, it is incredibly telling that Amazon is investing in this space, and it is worth monitoring to see where they go with it.

  • Quotes: Once you have decided on the make and model of the car you want to buy, it’s time to start getting quotes, and this can absolutely be done online. In fact, many people have found they actually get better out-the-door pricing on the exact same car from the exact same dealership if they get the quote from the Internet department rather than from a salesperson on the showroom floor.
  • Negotiation: Once you have the quotes, start emailing the dealerships back. Take the lowest quote you were offered, and see if any of the other dealerships can meet or beat it. Ask them what fees are included with their quote, and then do some research to make sure they are legitimate costs. If not, ask to have them removed. See which dealerships are willing to work with you and get you the best price. If you are not an experienced or skilled in-person negotiator, email levels the playing field considerably.
  • Delivery: As mentioned above, you still are going to have to sign all the paperwork in person. However, more dealers are starting to offer delivery to your home or office, and the person who brings the car will have the paperwork with them for you to sign. If you don’t even have to schedule time to get over to the dealership — which might involve some attempt to upsell additional products or services once you’re in the door — buying a car becomes just another quick thing to take care of over your lunch break.

Dealers and most manufacturers aren’t yet ready to go the full Tesla route, but many of the most frustrating aspects of the experience are slowly being taken online. And as the technology continues to improve, and consumer demand continues to grow, expect to see more and more of that process going to the virtual space. It is an exciting time to be a consumer, with more choice not just in what you buy, but how you buy it, and automobile retailers are starting to catch on.

Jennifer Bonessi

Jennifer is a blogging mom of three who loves her dusty minivan. "Its the closest thing to a spaceship I'll ever drive!" She writes for IFS and a variety of other niche publications.

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