A woman is typing her credit card information into a computer after searching for online car dealers.

Are Traditional Dealerships Becoming a Thing of the Past? The Trend of Online Car Shopping

What does your couch, sweatpants, and your favorite warm beverage have to do with car shopping? These days, everything! Online car dealers are becoming increasingly popular because they are revolutionizing the car-buying process by bringing the entire experience to you. You can shop for, schedule a test drive, and finalize all the paperwork for your vehicle from the comfort of your home or office. If you skip the test drive, you don’t even have to leave the couch.

Does this mean that traditional dealerships are becoming a thing of the past? What exactly is so great about online car shopping? Here’s a closer look at this revolutionary trend and why so many people are jumping on board.

Tackling the Reputation of Traditional Dealerships

How do you approach buying a vehicle? Do you drive over to the dealership, browse the lot, and introduce yourself to a salesperson? Or do you prefer to wait until the dealership is closed so that you can browse the lot without someone trying to sell you the latest model? Whatever the case, there’s one thing that dealerships have in common, and that’s a reputation for a high-pressure sales environment where making the sale can mean more than earning the customer’s trust.

“People are fed up with the old-school experience of buying and selling a car at a dealership,” the Beepi Consumer Automotive Index reported in 2016. “87% of American adults dislike something about the process of purchasing a vehicle at a traditional car dealership.” Part of that dislike comes from pushy salespeople, mounds of paperwork, and an entire day spent at the dealership. Sound familiar?

Online car dealers are making up for what traditional dealerships lack by allowing customers to set the pace of their car-buying experience. This starts from the comfort of your home or office, where you can easily browse a virtual showroom to find the perfect vehicle for your needs. From there, you decide the next steps, whether that means reaching out to the sales team for guidance, scheduling a test drive, applying for financing, or completing the buying process without ever leaving your home or office.

Everything is Literally at Your Fingertips

Let’s say you’re in the market for a new truck and your favorite dealership just so happens to be on your way to and from work. After clocking out, you’re driving home when you see the truck of your dreams sitting on the used lot at the dealership. You turn in, take a look at the truck, and decide that the time is right since the mileage is low, it’s packed with features, and the price is right. But before you truly commit, you’d like a little more info about the truck. What are your next steps?

Traditional dealerships are great about offering you the CARFAX report on used vehicles, which gives you a clearer picture of the vehicle’s owner history as well as any significant repairs or maintenance. This report is vital in ensuring the vehicle is a sound purchase. However, getting that report can take time, especially if the dealership is busy and your salesperson is handling multiple customers at once.

Online car dealers put everything at your fingertips. Sure, you can browse the virtual showroom, but you can also get the CARFAX sent straight to your inbox. If you are searching for a specific model, most online dealers allow you to sign up for inventory alerts, which means you’ll be alerted when the model you’re looking for hits the inventory. This is a huge convenience that saves a tremendous amount of time and eliminates the need to constantly scour the internet for the exact vehicle you want.

A blurred image shows a car dealership with a room full of cars.

To Test Drive or Not?

The growing trend among online car shopping begs another question, “Can I still test drive a vehicle?” The answer is a resounding, “Yes!” Remember that you’re in control of the process, and that means you can schedule a test drive at your convenience. Most online dealers will bring the vehicle to you, which allows you to test drive the vehicle on your lunch break without having to drive to the dealership and run the risk of being late to work.

The popularity of online car shopping has given rise to another trend – test drive videos. When you’re shopping online for a vehicle, how often do you browse through the model’s pictures or venture over to sites like YouTube to learn more about the model’s features? While pictures can’t replace a test drive, some experts argue that 360-degree videos just might. In fact, Google reports that “64% of shoppers who watch online videos to inform their purchase say new formats like 360-degree video would convince them to buy a car without a test drive” and that “in the past two years, watch time of ‘test drive’ videos on YouTube has grown by more than 65%.”

What does this mean? Online car dealers are not only putting you in control of the car-buying process, but they’re also giving you control of your first experience behind the wheel. These 360-degree test drive videos are replacing the need for you to ever leave your home or office to purchase a new vehicle. Just like you might watch a DIY video on how to fix a leaky sink or learn a new skill, you can watch a quick video to learn more about your next vehicle purchase. Everything you need is literally at the touch of a button.

Are Traditional Dealerships Declining?

Dealerships aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, thanks to franchise laws that require automakers to sell new vehicles through franchised dealers. This means that traditional dealerships are here to stay, but the rising popularity of online car dealers is forcing dealerships to pivot and make significant changes to their processes. This means taking a closer look at the customer service experience to improve buyer satisfaction in addition to offering more services online to streamline the process further and cater to a new demographic of shoppers.

Today, more and more traditional dealerships offer virtual showrooms, online service scheduling, and quick-buy programs that streamline the buying process. You’ll also find that automakers like GM, Volvo, Chevrolet, and Wagoneer are giving you more control over the process through smartphone apps that allow you to interact with the dealership without having to make a phone call or visit in person. You can use the app to schedule service appointments, monitor your vehicle’s health, and request valet service. These advancements put more focus on the customer experience and less on making a sale, which is a significant shift in repairing the commission-focused reputation of traditional dealerships.

A hand is holding out a set of car keys.

Key Takeaways

Online car dealers know that your time is valuable, and that’s why they’re revolutionizing the car-buying process. By streamlining the process and giving you more control, online car dealers are giving customers more of what they want and need – the ability to shop for a vehicle wherever they are, whether that’s from the comfort of their couch, behind a desk at the office, or poolside on vacation. The entire process is at your fingertips, literally!

While franchise laws will keep traditional dealerships afloat selling the newest models, online car dealers are impacting even this realm of the industry. How? Because they prove that the process can be more efficient and customer-centric. This is forcing traditional dealerships to reevaluate their processes to improve overall customer satisfaction because, by the time a buyer visits the dealership, he or she has already done their homework and is ready to buy. For buyers, it’s a win-win either way they choose to shop.