A woman is on her laptop doing some online car shopping.

Did C-19 Create Online Car Shopping?

The short answer to that question is: no. While the longer answer is: no, but it has certainly thrust it into the spotlight in a way that a lot of people might not have expected. The reality is that online car shopping has been a completely viable option for many years now, but not everyone has been quick to embrace it. For a lot of people, buying a car has a standard formula to it that has to be followed, which includes going to a dealer, looking at options, taking a test drive, haggling over the price, etc.

As the world has changed in the wake of COVID-19; however, online car shopping––along with pretty much every other kind of online shopping––has seen a boom in popularity. That includes shopping via websites that only exist to sell cars online, as well as shopping with a traditional dealership using their website. In an age where online shopping has increasingly become the norm, it seems like online car buying was just waiting for its moment to truly shine. I’m not sure anyone would’ve guessed that the “moment” it needed would be a global pandemic with a catastrophic body count.

Online Shopping

Let’s take a moment to look at online shopping, in general, and consider some of its pros and cons. The history of online shopping is essentially an evolution through simplicity. By which I mean that shopping online has become increasingly popular as it has become simpler and easier to do. It was already booming when you had to sit at your computer to order something online––but now that you can use an app on your phone to order something in less than a minute, and have it show up minutes or a few days later, simplicity has paved the way for mass acceptance.

Of course, the other major aspect of online shopping, of any kind, is trust. When you go to a store to buy an item in person, you can see it. You can hold it in your hand, look for flaws, damage, or other issues, and have confidence in the information your senses relay. You get none of that reassurance with shopping online, and that’s likely one of the major points that some people have had keeping them from embracing online car shopping. Vehicle history reports can only tell you so much…

Car Shopping

A smiling woman is sitting in a convertible car that she bought online.

And that brings us to car shopping as an overall experience. For the vast majority of people, buying a car represents a major financial investment, one that they don’t take lightly. If you’re going to be paying off a car for the next four or five years, then you want to make sure it lasts you at least that long, and hopefully a lot longer. You also want to be sure you are paying a fair price for something of high value.

That’s where we get into the traditional actions of a car shopper: kicking the tires, inspecting the vehicle, going for a test drive, all of that. If you buy a few apples, get them home, and discover they’re rotten, then that’s disappointing but not necessarily disastrous. On the other hand, if you buy a car, get it home, and discover it needs a new engine, then you might be in some trouble.

So, your typical car-buying process is all about making sure you get the right vehicle for what you need, and that it’s of high quality to be worth your investment. Online car shopping is no different, but there are certain things that have likely kept some folks from going this route.

Online Car Shopping

Now, here we are, looking at how online shopping and car shopping can come together. Ultimately, the goals and expectations of a car buyer are still the same: high quality, the right vehicle, and the best price possible. But when you look at a picture of a car or truck online, there’s only so much information you can glean from that shiny graphic. So how does online car shopping actually work for a customer?

It’s all about buying from a site or dealer that you can trust. It’s no different than choosing a conventional dealership––you would always want to take your business somewhere that will treat you well and respect you and your time. Shopping online is much the same: you want to choose a website that is reputable and established, with a good inventory, and with services that show you that you’re valued.

Of course, some people would simply never choose to go this route. Preferring, instead, to stick with the conventional, only buying a car they find at a dealership and going through the traditional process. That is until the option to do so became potentially deadly.

Shopping During a Pandemic

A car salesman with a face mask is standing in a car showroom.

COVID-19 has altered, on a fundamental level, the lives of most people in a way that a lot of us probably haven’t fully appreciated. For one thing, it has highlighted who, in our society, is actually “essential” and reminded all of us of who is out there, every day and night, keeping the wheels on our civilization turning. It has also changed the way we look at shopping and buying the things we need.

Even though car dealerships have remained open in some states, often deemed “essential” since they provide transportation that other essential workers rely on, a lot of people have chosen to avoid them. Customers who might not have otherwise thought of doing so are now choosing to try out online car shopping to avoid potential exposure to other people and the risk of contagion. And when it works, it works well.

As people get a taste for how easy online car shopping is, it could very well be one of those things that a lot of them don’t want to go back to when all is said and done. Much the same way a lot of shoppers have abandoned malls and conventional retail businesses now that we know how easy it is to buy what we need with the click of a button, car shoppers have discovered how simple and effective online car shopping is.

Dedicated businesses that specialize in online car sales are quite popular, as are the websites for dealerships that will sell online to local customers. These businesses will bring the vehicle to you so you can see it, take it for a test drive, and otherwise ensure you get exactly what you need without a financial commitment beforehand. When confronted with that kind of simplicity and efficiency, why choose a more time-consuming and frustrating method?

What about the Future?

With each passing day of quarantine, each passing day of infection rates and fatalities, and each passing day of social distancing, the phrase “When everything returns to normal…” is used less and less. While some things will certainly be like they were before, there are other things that will simply never go back to “normal,” and that’s okay. Sometimes, evolution does not happen through benevolence but through difficulty, pain, and overcoming complications.

The end result of all of this is that online car shopping, along with other forms of buying things online, will continue to grow in popularity. After all, if you can do something in a way that is simpler and quicker, with less stress and hassle, why would you ever choose to go “back to normal” and do it the hard way? Some people may go back, but others will continue to move forward.