Katie Fiechter

Buying a car is notoriously one of the most frustrating processes to go through. From having to go to the dealership, to test driving, and completing the purchase — the process feels never-ending. For a large majority of automotive companies, the vehicle buying process is still primarily conducted in person and takes about 3 hours on average.

Living in a constantly evolving digital world has altered consumer’s expectations to be able to buy things with a simple click of a button, so why can’t the automotive industry follow suit? Companies like Carvana, Carmax, CarGurus,, and Autotrader have truly revolutionized the process of buying and selling a car by leveraging ecommerce and creating a more seamless, omnichannel experience that simplifies and connects the car buying process.


Commerce is no longer just for small ticket items, but for “big ticket commerce” as well. Over the past year, new levels of comfort with technology have emerged resulting in an increase in buying items like furniture, boats, and, yes, cars, online. While the statistics sway in favor of those who still would prefer to buy a car in person (71% of American consumers), CarGurus found that 61% of people shopping for cars earlier this year were open to buying online.

People still value the in-person parts of buying a car like test driving, comparing makes and models, and seeing the colors and features up close. That doesn’t mean that old processes like financing, dealing with multiple departments and people, trade-in valuation, and paperwork, can’t easily be streamlined by online tools.


Car buying is an extremely time-consuming process for both the buyer and seller. With that being said, a hybrid approach to buying a car is a feasible and potentially cost-effective option for dealerships. This could shorten transaction times, make more salespeople available, eliminate negative reviews, drive higher loyalty and trust with shoppers, and, as importantly, keep them from seeking other alternatives to purchase or lease.

The future of the car buying experience needs to combine both online and offline components to adjust to consumer preferences. The 2020 Cox Automotive COVID-19 Consumer Impact Study found that 60% of shoppers want to complete more of the purchase steps online compared to the last time they purchased a vehicle. The study also found that shoppers were happier with their buying experience during the COVID-19 lockdown than any year prior. On average, someone who is searching for a car will typically spend more than 9 hours researching and figuring out exactly what they want. By the time someone gets to the dealership, they know what they want and want to get through the process as quickly as possible. Making a large portion of the car-buying journey digital reduces many unnecessary touchpoints, and allows consumers to go to the dealerships with a get-in-and-get-out mentality.

61% of consumers did not feel that the car-buying journey has improved since they last bought a vehicle, which gives online platforms like Carvana the upper hand. An omnichannel solution unlocks convenience, especially for customers who do not live close to a dealership. Implementing features like interactive vehicle configuration (trim, exterior color, interior color, add-ons, etc.), reservation tools, store locator, and up-to-date inventory are all ways in which the automotive industry can start adopting a customer-centric experience.


Take Carvana for example. You may recognize them by their “car vending machines”. They make the online car buying process extremely simple. Search their car inventory, find a car that fits a given budget, and reserve the car for purchase. They offer tools to help determine the vehicle trade-in value, a loan calculator, and options to either finance with Carvana, pay with cash, or finance through a third-party vendor. For added convenience, a purchaser can either have the car delivered to their home or choose a nearby pickup location. They offer a 7-day return policy (Carmax, in order to keep pace, recently instituted a 30-day return policy), as well as a 100-day limited warranty.

Many traditional in-person processes can be simplified with online processes. Take trading in a car. Traditionally, a person must take their car to a dealership for an inspection and get their trade-in value. CarMax has taken that process and made it possible to complete almost completely online. Through filling out vehicle information, answering some basic questions, and sending in various photos of the car, Carmax can provide a quick, rough estimate. All of the heavy lifting is done beforehand. If the seller decides to accept the offer, they visit a CarMax location, make sure everything matches the information online and can sell their car on the spot, or take 7 days (with mileage limitations) to weigh their options.

Perhaps the biggest pain-point of the car buying experience is haggling. Most people find this to be an unpleasant, awkward experience. Dealerships can empower their customers by moving the in-person negotiation process online. Through integrating configure-price-quoting (CPQ), the negotiation process can become much simpler, transparent, and efficient. This also eliminates extra time spent at the dealership negotiating price, when this can all be predetermined before stepping foot into a dealership.


With AR and VR technology, the automotive industry has many opportunities to enhance digital car buying experiences further. Simple additions like scannable QR codes that serve up full vehicle specs, videos, and related information can be added to vehicle stickers. VR technology served through devices like the Oculus can enable consumers to do virtual walkarounds or even test drives to truly experience the car in the comfort of their own homes, before making a purchase decision.

Let’s face it, car buying has been forced to change indefinitely. Ultimately, modern car buyers are motivated by convenience, value, and transparency. Expectations are shifting with the rapid acceleration of digital commerce and traditional dealerships run the risk of losing business with outdated, high-pressure tactics and processes. Digital commerce capabilities will continue to force the automotive industry to change the way they do business which will ultimately improve the car buying experience and overall customer satisfaction.