The way people buy cars is changing rapidly. New technologies and services are disrupting the traditional car dealership model and empowering consumers. This shift presents both opportunities and challenges for car buyers looking to get the best deal on their next vehicle.
Online Research Levels the Playing Field
Just a decade ago, car buyers had relatively limited information when walking into a dealership. They were at an inherent disadvantage compared to salespeople who knew their inventory inside and out. The rise of online car shopping has leveled the playing field significantly.
Today, websites like Edmunds, Kelley Blue Book, and Consumer Reports provide specifications, reviews, price comparisons, and buying advice on every make and model. Buyers can dig into incentives, rebates, and inventory specifics before ever setting foot in the dealership. Armed with data, they are in a much better position to assess offers and negotiate confidently.
Dealerships have had to adapt to this new reality. The hard sell tactics of the past simply don’t work on informed customers who have done their homework. Progressive dealerships embrace transparency, providing upfront pricing online and focusing more on overall customer experience.
Shopping Options Expand with E-commerce
Online car buying opens up new possibilities for where and how to shop. Large retailers like Carmax and Carvana have had success with online-only sales models, delivering vehicles directly to buyers. Customers appreciate the simplicity and pressure-free experience compared to traditional dealers.
Manufacturers are also getting in on the direct sales action. Some luxury automakers now give customers the option to browse inventory, get price quotes, and complete purchases completely online. Tesla famously uses an online-only sales approach. As e-commerce for cars becomes more mainstream, consumers will have more options to buy on their terms.
Local dealerships are by no means going away, but they will need to focus on providing value during the sales process. Test drives, service departments, and person-to-person interaction still matter. Dealers who cling to old ways of doing things will struggle. Those evolving to compete in a digital sales landscape will remain relevant.
Third-Party Services Change the Process
A new crop of car buying services has emerged to further streamline and improve the buying experience. These companies act as consumer advocates, leveraging relationships with dealerships to negotiate deals on the buyer’s behalf. For a flat fee, they handle everything from finding the right vehicle to final paperwork.
For buyers that don’t have the time or patience to shop on their own, these services can provide significant convenience and savings compared to just walking into a dealership. They also give anxious negotiators peace of mind that they are getting a fair, competitive price. Initial success suggests this segment still has room for growth in coming years.
Technology Can Simplify Financing
Even buyers that feel confident negotiating price can find securing financing intimidating. Dealerships often use financing as an opportunity to pad profit. Consumers may feel pressured to accept higher rates or unnecessary add-ons.
Online finance marketplaces aim to take the stress out of this part of the transaction. Customers can get pre-qualified and evaluate multiple lenders via a single application. This gives them leverage to secure better approved rates before ever setting foot in the dealership.
Emerging fintech tools go a step farther, leveraging artificial intelligence to analyze creditworthiness and predict optimal terms. If widely adopted, AI could make the finance part of car buying feel more like applying for any other online loan.
Virtual Walkarounds Enhance Remote Shopping
For used car buyers that shop nationally, test driving and inspecting vehicles remotely is highly desirable. Emerging virtual walkaround technologies enable this through immersive, interactive visuals.
Using a combination of cameras and AI, these virtual inspections allow buyers to get an up-close look at every angle and detail as if they were examining it in person. Integrated communications allow for asking follow-up questions.
For buyers unwilling or unable to travel long distances to see cars, tools like this help replicate crucial in-person evaluation. They expand the selection of inventory buyers can confidently consider from anywhere.
Data Integration Improves the Customer Experience
Behind the scenes, dealerships rely on customer relationship management (CRM) systems to manage interactions throughout the sales funnel. However, these systems are often fragmented. Piecing together insights requires tedious busywork that detracts from customer experience.
New tools leverage APIs and automation to integrate data from different stages and sources into unified profiles. Sales, service, and marketing departments get access to comprehensive views of customer interactions. This enables more seamless, personalized experiences that strengthen engagement and loyalty.
The Future Belongs to Buyers
The car buying journey still has its fair share of pain points. But new technologies are shifting power to consumers. Access to information, expanding online options, and innovations in finance, e-commerce, and data integration give buyers more control.
Dealerships clinging to pushy sales tactics and lack of transparency will lose out as consumer-focused disruption continues. The future belongs to those embracing digital evolution to enhance, not restrict, customer choice.
For car buyers, this means an expanding set of tools to shop confidently, save money, and find the right vehicle for their needs. The only constant is change when it comes to how technology shapes car buying. Savvy consumers stand to benefit the most.