An orange 2018 Chevy Equinox is shown from the front at an angle after leaving a used car dealer.

Is the Rise of Online Used Car Dealers Imminent?

Passing by a local used car dealer in town, you can’t help but think that maybe this is the end for them. After all, with more convenient ways to buy and sell cars through online platforms like Carvana and Vroom, it just makes sense that drivers would be lining up to buy their vehicles digitally, but surprisingly this isn’t the case. Online car dealers have been steadily increasing in popularity; however, a full-on takeover may not be in the cards just yet, especially since dealerships are fighting back, offering their own version of contact-free shopping. So, which is the better way to buy a car? When it comes to used car dealers, will online options eventually overtake the traditional experience?

Why Choose an Online Car Dealer?

There’s no denying that, since the pandemic, online shopping has become the go-to way to buy anything these days, including cars. The utter convenience of not having to leave your couch while you make a big purchase is an unmatched feeling, especially with hectic schedules and stress. After all, who has the time in their day to spend hours at a dealership or waste time arguing over prices with a salesperson? Well, although this is a general misconception about buying from a dealership, this isn’t necessarily what you can expect––but we’ll get to that a bit later.

In addition to exceptional convenience, online car dealers also offer a larger selection than many traditional dealerships, which appeals to many drivers seeking out their perfect car. The ability to filter by features, year, mileage, and more means being able to find the vehicle that’s ideal for your driving needs. It also saves you time since you won’t have to worry about sifting through a bunch of vehicles on a used car lot that don’t meet your expectations. It’s also nice that you won’t have to worry about haggling over prices, as many online retailers like Carvana specify that their prices can’t be negotiated. They state that they offer competitive rates without including any additional dealer fees.

Another big perk of utilizing an online car dealer is the fact that you can shop on your time without the need to carve out valuable space in your schedule to stop by a used car lot. This means that midnight on a Friday night is fair game for car shopping––something that you could never accomplish at a traditional dealer. There are many benefits that go along with this process, but keep in mind that it’s not for everyone.

A blue 2018 Chevy Silverado 1500 is shown from the rear at an angle.

The Risks of Shopping Online for a Car

The idea itself may seem too good to be true. Shopping for a car without having to change out of your pajamas? Sign us up, please! But although there are perks of utilizing online car dealerships, there is also a list of risks that you’ll want to be prepared to navigate through.

To start, buying a car is something that requires the ability to see, touch, and experience the vehicle first-hand, which is difficult to do from the tiny screen of your phone. You may fall in love with the photos of a particular model, but when you see it in person, it doesn’t meet your expectations. This is a reality with online car buying, one that you’ll want to be prepared for because being able to actually sit down and get a feel for the drive can’t be rivaled. Not being able to test drive your car before you purchase it can be a big deterrent for many car shoppers, one that leads them to take online car buying completely off the table as an option.

Another question shoppers will need to ask themselves is what if they end up not liking the car once it’s delivered? All of the time and effort seems like it’s for nothing, having to go back to the drawing board once more. Although many online dealers have some sort of return policy, having to start from scratch again can be a real headache. It can also be stressful not being able to negotiate a price. Even though car shoppers dread doing this, having the option to negotiate a better price is always better than being stuck with a price and having no way to adjust it.

Online car shopping is also missing the human element. Sure, you’re paired with an online sales team member, but it’s not someone you can see and talk to in person, which can make the entire process a bit disconnected. You may also be disappointed when you try and trade-in your current vehicle, as many shoppers report that it’s difficult to get the price they want for their vehicles over the internet; another reason why it pays to work with someone face-to-face. As you can see, there are many reasons why shoppers choose to buy online, but along with all the benefits also comes a long list of risks. This is why it’s important to consider all of your options before committing to online car buying.

Are Dealerships Still the Gold Standard?

We’ve got to hand it to car dealerships for enhancing their versatility over the past few years. Now, not only are you able to shop on a physical lot, many dealerships are offering online shopping as well. The biggest advantage a car dealership has is its presence in a local community. The team consists of community members who are your neighbors and acquaintances, making it easier to trust them for your vehicle needs. It also helps that you’re able to see and touch a vehicle before you commit to it so that you know this is the vehicle for you.

You’re able to walk through the front doors and be greeted by a friendly and knowledgeable professional, not someone from a chat box on a computer screen. As we mentioned above, traditional dealerships are also offering new ways to go about buying a vehicle, including online programs, which act just like Carvana and Vroom, except for the fact that they’re locally operated. You’re able to shop from a diverse inventory of vehicles, find the car you’re interested in, and arrange for a test drive at the dealership to be sure it’s the one. You’re also able to negotiate on a price––another key element that’s missing from big-name online car dealers. Because of this flexibility, traditional used car dealerships are able to be fierce competitors in the industry, further enhancing their appeal with local drivers.

A red 2020 Chevy Camaro is shown from the front at an angle.

Your Decision

It all comes down to what is important to the shopper, as everyone has their own unique needs when it comes to what they’re looking for in a vehicle and in the buying process. If you’re looking for a convenient and no-nonsense approach, buying online may be ideal. However, if you want to experience the car in person, negotiate a fair price, and have confidence in your purchase, shopping at your local used car dealer may be the right move. There are limitations that go along with each scenario as well. For online-only dealerships, the chance to negotiate a price and get a feel for a vehicle isn’t an option, while at traditional dealerships, the thought of negotiating or setting time aside to test drive a vehicle can be stressful.

In the end, it’s all about getting the right car for your lifestyle. Partnering with a dealership will allow you to have the best of both worlds––the perfect car for your needs and a process you can trust. When considering whether or not online used car dealers will take over the industry, the answer is that it’s unlikely to happen, especially since traditional dealerships are working diligently to add even more versatility to the process. Dealerships have this experience locked down, and many are proving that they’re still the gold standard when it comes to shopping for a car.