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DEPARTMENTBy Bridget McCreaShopping online for your next car is getting easierTime to make the plunge and buy your next car? Technology has made it as easy as opening your favorite web browser.Buying a car used to mean a taking a full day (or two) for shopping, test driving and wading through financial options. Technology, of course, has simplified the process, where buying a car from your couch is a new reality.
Virtual car-buying was already gaining momentum pre-COVID-19, but the pandemic pushed the trend ahead a few years as people opted for touchless transactions from afar versus in-person visits to businesses.
“With so many consumer goods and services shifting online permanently due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the automobile industry has finally started to digitally integrate its services,” says Kevin Singerman, CEO and co-founder at AutoFi. “Although COVID-19 certainly was an accelerator to digitization, investments made over the last several years set the stage for the current trend.”
The trend is real. According to Cars.com, 57% of buyers handled the bulk of their vehicle purchase processes online in 2020, with at-home delivery of vehicles and/or the trading in of cars from a consumer’s driveway both gaining in popularity last year.
Stepping up to the plate Auto dealers are accommodating their customers’ virtual buying habits. Dealerships are adopting digital tools and technology increasingly, and car shoppers can expect more of the purchase process to take place on virtual selling platforms such as chat, video and dealer websites, according to Cars.com. More than 70% of consumers want to be able to conduct at least some aspects of the car-buying process online.
Pointing to Vroom and Carvana as two popular online car-buying platforms, Singerman said digital retailing in the auto industry has been both proven and de-risked over the last couple of years. As a result, he says that the $1 trillion auto sales industry — which has been operating nearly completely offline up until recently — is now shifting in large part online. “As car shoppers express an increased desire to complete some of the car-shopping process online, especially price negotiations and online financing, the percentage of online auto sales will continue to increase,” Singerman said.
As that happens, you’ll want to polish your online research, negotiating and buying skills. You can both research and negotiate via email, and don’t be afraid to shop around and pit dealerships against one another. Shop from the comfort of your own home, explore a wider selection of vehicle options with just a few clicks and browse without feeling pressured by a salesperson. The downsides are that you won’t be able to jump in for a test drive or give the car a once-over, both of which will have to take place in-person at the dealership.
Tackling the complexities If you secure preapproved financing from American Airlines Federal Credit Union in advance, you may be able to negotiate even more competitive terms (ask for the out-the-door price on the car first and then present your financing details). Understand that any extended warranties, prepaid auto maintenance or insurance options will be added onto the contract price and are typically more expensive when purchased from the dealership.
Acquiring a car online is more complex than buying an appliance or computer that way. Be sure to do your research, read the consumer reviews, explore your options, and understand all contract details before signing on the dotted line.