Buyers GuideLatest News

Buying Cars Online: The Trend Accelerates, Even at the High End

The conventional wisdom is that, more and more, consumers are shopping for cars online, but still buying them in bricks-and-mortar dealerships. After all, cars are a big expense, and most people want to see the vehicle they’re buying before making a commitment. But recent events, especially the Covid-19 pandemic, are making that less true than it was. 

Buyers of both new and classic cars, made nervous by the thought of dealership or auction visits, are increasingly consummating purchases without leaving their home sanctuaries, and Cox Automotive (home to Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book) is helping them do it. 

The Cox package, announced March 24, is called Dealer Home Services, and it includes help for auto retailers in putting together virtual walk-arounds (so they can “kick the tires” online), test drives at home (with the car brought to the prospective buyer), and local new vehicle delivery that avoids a dealership visit—with the paperwork completed online. The concept seems to be working—4,000 dealerships signed up for the package in the first three days.

“Buying things online has become normal for most people, but the auto sector has been behind a bit at enabling it,” says Jessica Stafford, senior vice president and general manager of Autotrader and Kelley Blue Book. “Car dealers need to understand that they have to enable customers to buy online, and we’re working to help our industry evolve into that space. Test drives at home, with delivery and pickup, will be the new normal,” she says, adding that the cars are being fully sanitized before the shoppers get into them.

Since the spread of Covid-19 started, Stafford says Cox has seen an uptick in car shopping online. Some 37% of “six-month intenders” (people with imminent buying intentions) are now less likely to visit a dealership in person because of coronavirus. The company’s 2019 Automotive Car Buyer Journey Survey reported that 61% of car shoppers’ time was already spent in front of a computer.

This trend is accelerated by the fact that people really, really don’t enjoy the dealership experience. Negotiating to buy a car in the showroom, for many, can be like rubbing your face in sandpaper. 

“The number one pain point found in many dealerships is the traditional price-negotiation sales model,” according to Wards Auto. The Beepi Consumer Automotive Index in 2016 found that “people are fed up with the old-school experience of buying and selling a car at a dealership. 87% of American adults dislike something about the process of purchasing a vehicle at a traditional car dealership.” 

Stafford says people still want to engage with a product specialist for “guidance and price assurance,” but they want an expert instead of a slick sales type. That kind of consultation doesn’t have to be based at dealerships, though. Consumers want less haggling plus reduced paperwork, and the online experience enables that.

Auto dealerships are already working on valet services that keep customers out of dealerships—and make them happier. Volvo, for instance, said on March 31, its owners “can now have their cars serviced without leaving their homes or offices.”

Volvo Valet has a proprietary smartphone app that customers can use to interface with their local dealer and make appointments and preferred pickup time. Notifications let owners know their cars are being serviced, and when they’ll likely be brought back. Lincoln has also been touting its valet services. 

The move toward online transactions is particularly noticeable in the classic car world. RM Sotheby’s ran its first online-only auction sale from March 20-28, after first canceling the planned on-the-ground event in Palm Beach, Fla. The results show that classic buyers are willing to bid up high-end vintage automobiles they’ve never actually seen. The sale took in $13.7 million, with a 69% sell-through rate. There were nearly 900 registered bidders, actually up 23% from the average at the company’s regular Palm Beach Auctions.

Buyers could look virtually at reams of documentation, including history files, restoration documentation, service invoices, and owner’s manuals. A 1996 Porsche 911 GT2 sold for $891,000, and a 2019 McLaren Senna (virtually new with 200 miles on the odometer) brought $847,000.

“The late-model dealerships are selling transportation; our customers are passion-based,” he says., which gets 3 million visitors a month, is a portal to connect dealers and individuals selling sought-after models with potential purchasers. There are 40,000 listings on the site. 

The field is getting crowded for classic cars online, and includes Hagerty, Hemmings Motor News, (BaT), BidGarage,, and others. BaT has shown quite a bit of strength with online auctions, and Hemmings and Barn Finds have also entered the field.

Expect a number of others to come out with their own offerings. With these auctions, the owner posts a raft of photos and perhaps a video, then answers questions as the timed auction winds down. There’s no shortage of high-end cars being sold this way—without a visual inspection—including many for six figures. 

It’s not likely that the major auction houses will end their on-site auctions anytime soon—they’re still doing well, at least when Covid-19 isn’t around. 

But the trend to online is unmistakable. RM Sotheby’s already had online-only auctions, an enterprise launched in 2019. And dealerships, with their acres of auto inventory, showrooms, and lucrative service bays, are also safe—for now. Eventually, however, all car sales will probably be online. 

9 thoughts on “Buying Cars Online: The Trend Accelerates, Even at the High End

  • I want to thank you for your assistance and this post. It’s been great.

  • Can you write more about it? Your articles are always helpful to me. Thank you!

  • Ꮤhen sоmeone writеѕ an paragraph he/sһе maintains thе thoսght of
    a ᥙseг in hiѕ/her mind thаt һow a user can understand іt.
    So that’s why tһiѕ piece of writing іs amazing.

    Loοk ɑt my site – kids room; Warren,

  • I think the admin of this website is genuinely working hard for his web site, as here every data is quality based data.

  • great post, very informative. I wonder why the other specialists of this sector do not realize this.
    You must continue your writing. I am confident, you’ve a huge readers’ base already!

  • What’s up to every one, the contents present at this web
    site are truly amazing for people experience, well, keep up the good work fellows.

  • My spouse and I stumbled over here different page and thought I should check things out.
    I like what I see so now i’m following you.
    Look forward to exploring your web page repeatedly.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons