A woman is looking at a new car on a laptop while online car shopping.

Saving Time: The Real Value of Shopping Online


It’s no secret that shopping for a car is not what some people would call a “good time,” and there are plenty of excellent reasons for that. This is, in no small part, due to the way that traditional car shopping occurred, and continues to occur, which is designed to give the dealership as many advantages as possible. With the shift, over the last few years, to an increased focus on online car shopping by a lot of customers, however, times have changed.

That’s not to necessarily say that anyone is going to choose shopping for a car over, say, a trip to the beach, or a nice dinner out with a loved one. But, at the very least, the online car shopping process is generally a lot less painful and much more rewarding for you, the shopper. There are all sorts of reasons why this is, but one of the most important, and one that you should keep in mind when approaching your next car-buying experience, is just how much time it can save you. Your time is valuable, so you should choose a method of car shopping that lets you keep as much of it as possible.

Car Buying Trends

Online car shopping has transformed the way that people go about buying cars, and this is, by and large, a good thing. For example, in 2017 a car buyer spent 118 days, on average, on the market shopping for a car; in 2019, however, a buyer spent only 96 days shopping, based on data from Cox Automotive, a company that tracks this kind of information to help dealers better serve their customers. What this tells you, however, is that the entire car buying process has been sped up, primarily due to much greater access to a tremendous amount of information.

Data from Cox Automotive also shows that when people do some online car shopping, they typically use numerous websites, including third-party sites, and do research or look at their options on lots of different devices, including computers, phones, and tablets. And yet, despite this, car buyers are still not satisfied with much of the car buying process, especially once they reach a dealership. Time spent at a dealership while making a purchase takes nearly three hours on average, with most shoppers saying their satisfaction significantly decreased after 90 minutes – no surprise there, I’d feel the same.

A salesman and a customer are looking at a tablet at a car dealership.

The Advantage of Online Car Shopping

However, there is some hope for you: online car shopping is the key to making the process faster, which should help you stay under that 90 minute limit for frustration. You can do just about everything that would typically require a lengthy process at a dealership, which is why it can take three hours in-person, online through a dealer or other website. Doing so isn’t just about convenience; yes, you can shop for a car in your pajamas, but it also makes the process quicker. According to Cox Automotive, doing these steps digitally can save you the following amount of time:

  • Discussing Paperwork: 45 minutes
  • Negotiating Price: 43 minutes
  • Selecting Add-ons: 33 minutes
  • Getting Trade-in Offer: 26 minutes

So, you can see that you might be able to save more than two hours of your time by doing all of these things online. Admittedly these are probably best-case scenarios, but even if you cut these numbers in half, you’re still looking at a full hour of your life back that you would’ve otherwise spent at a car dealership. Just imagine all the things you could do with that hour instead.

How You Can Take Advantage of It

Now, you’re probably wondering, how do you use this information? How do you take advantage of it? Well, it’s pretty simple, really: embrace online car shopping.

If you’re like me, you probably shop for and buy just about anything else you need online – or at least know that it’s available to you. And yet, too many people think that they have to stick with old-fashioned, outdated, traditional methods when it comes to shopping for a car. And I get it – buying a car is a big investment, so you want to make sure you’re protected, and you’re not going to be taken advantage of.

But that’s true whenever you buy anything – as long as you are cautious and take every step possible to protect yourself, you should be fine. That means only shopping with reputable dealers and websites that have an established reputation for quality and honesty. If you decide to shop for used cars from private sellers in your area, then you need to be extremely careful to make sure you are protected. This means protecting your personal safety – never give out your private information to someone you don’t know – and protecting your money.

Your best bet is to stick with dealers and authoritative websites that specialize in selling cars online and have proven themselves in the industry. Your investment in a new or used vehicle has a lot more protection when you go through an official business rather than buy from some guy across town. And some of these websites have really advanced the process of online car shopping, providing you with far more comprehensive tools for finding the perfect vehicle and bringing it right to your door.

What to Avoid

A car salesman in a grey suit has his arms crossed.

You might notice I say things like “reputable dealer” or “proven themselves;” that’s because there are some resources you might find for online car shopping that really aren’t worth your time. You should know what to be wary of, so you can move on when you find them. This can help you avoid wasting your time on sites that aren’t worth it. After all, the whole point of this is to save yourself time and make shopping for a car more effortless, so it’s important to make sure you choose sites and dealers that will actually help you do so.

Shoppers, like you, are using lots of different types of devices to do research, and dealerships should know that. So if you’re on a website for a dealer or online car seller, and it looks like hot garbage on your phone, for example, then that’s a pretty big red flag. If the dealer were committed to making your experience as beneficial as possible, then they would make sure their site was optimized to function on a wide range of devices.

Speaking of making your experience beneficial, you want to make sure the site you’re on is more than just well-made. It should actually have some tools and features that you can use, and that benefit you. The whole point of being able to save time is that you should be able to do a lot of the different aspects of shopping for and buying a car online. That means the ability to easily search through and sort their inventory to find what you’re looking for, having access to financing tools that help speed up that step of the process, and more. In other words, choose an online seller with a website that is functional and helpful.

At the end of the day, it’s all about finding websites that work for you. As a customer, every step of online car shopping needs to make your life easier and make the process quicker. When you find that, then you know you’re dealing with a business that puts your needs first.