Selling Cars Online or Offline: Not Everyone Wants to Buy Their Next Car Online


Be prepared to be shocked, but not everyone wants to buy their next car online.

Not even close.

While there are certainly consumers who will fully buy new and used vehicles online today, they likely represent no more than five to seven percent of total buyers. This means they’re still an important group to court and cater to, but not numerous enough for traditional dealers to close up their lots and move to 100% online car selling.

But don’t people hate buying cars the traditional way?

Yes, as we learned in the first article in this series, consumers hate most everything about today’s car buying process. Of course, armed with data like we presented in that post, it’s no wonder we are faced with a myriad of online car sellers that expect to “revolutionize” the way America buys cars.

Given that people dislike your processes and that there are viable alternatives to you (at least on the used car side) right now, your sales must be in the tank, right? I mean, these new guys have to have it all figured out, right?

They have no dealership hassles? Check.

No bad dealership processes? Check.

Heck, no dealership expenses, either right? Just buy and drive; simple, right?

Don’t Fear Those Selling 100% Online

Actually, the online sellers forgot a few things. While there are no “dealership” expenses with these folks, they still have the same acquisition and recon costs that you have, don’t they? They’ve got to buy and they’ve got to sell cars. Plus, they have new costs that you don’t have like storage, pickup, delivery.

On top of all that, no dealership experience means there’s no car shopping for their buyers. In the words of Dr. Alan Grant from Jurassic Park, “T-Rex doesn’t want to be fed. He wants to hunt.”

There’s a reason that online seller beepi went out of business after burning through $150 million. It’s because they forgot that people still want to shop, even when they know what they want!

But the Data Shows…

You might be thinking, “But Steve, eBay did a study of buyers last year and they found a whopping 63% said they were either likely or extremely likely to purchase a vehicle fully online.”

The problem with consumer surveys starts when you ask the consumer to participate.

While 63% may have said they’re likely to buy cars online, the question remains: What’s stopping them? eBay Motors has made online buying easy to accomplish for more than a decade. Why don’t we see 63% of Americans buying their cars sight unseen and 100% online on eBay today?

Because, not everyone wants to buy their next car online. Not even close.

Of course, for those that do (and Cox Automotive says that number will likely grow to about 10% of the market by 2019), it’s actually possible today to do so fully on a dealership website and in a way that is a great buying experience for the consumer and a profitable transaction for the dealer.

Companies like AutoFi have leapfrogged the clunky shopping carts and embarrassing flop that is Shop-Click-Drive and are actually helping dealers sell cars online today for higher grosses, both front and back.

We’ll explore online car buying in more detail later in the series, but suffice it to say that you must be all-in on a great experience, online, offline and a hybrid of the two today. And all three of these buying experiences should be largely identical to each other. That is, all three of your possible buying processes, whether it’s 100% offline or 100% online or a combination of the two; those processes and the experiences should be largely identical regardless of the channel the respective customer is using.

Next up in the series: The “Traditional” Up

(If you’re catching this series for the first time, you may want to begin with the first post in the series: It’s About a Great Experience)

About TheManager:

Steve Stauning, creator of The Appointment Culture and an expert in The Customer Experience. He is also an extremely popular keynote speaker, writer, and industry consultant. Learn more about Steve at