Frequent eBay shoppers are familiar with the Buy It Now tab that allows them to bypass bidding and snag that power tool or antique chair on the spot.
A Minnesota dealership group has applied that concept to selling cars online -- and it's moving 100 to 150 new and used units a month that way.
Visitors to Walser Automotive Group's Web sites can simply click an I'll Take It button next to a vehicle listing from the store's inventory. That routes them to a page where they fill out personal information and plunk down a $500 deposit via PayPal or a credit card. They can apply for financing online as well. Online buyers get the same no-haggle price that Walser offers in the showroom.
Walser worked with PayPal and digital marketing firm Dealer.com to create I'll Take It and integrate the feature with PayPal's site. After almost a year of debate -- Walser's owners weren't convinced that the time spent would justify the feature -- and technical hurdles, all nine of Walser's dealership sites launched I'll Take It in late 2012.
"It minimizes the time you'll spend in our dealership and lets us have your documentation prepared for you when you arrive," reads a summary of the service on Walser Automotive Group's Web site.
Using dealership Web sites to complete transactions, instead of simply as tools for customers to browse inventory and get price quotes, is in its infancy. But General Motors is moving in that direction with its Shop-Click-Drive program that allows online shoppers to buy vehicles from start to delivery. GM began Shop-Click-Drive as a pilot last year and plans a national rollout by year end.
The 100 or so GM dealerships participating in the Shop-Click-Drive pilot since it began have sold about nine units on average, a much slower pace than Walser's experience.
The volume of takers at Walser surprised Doug Sprinthall, Walser's new- and used-vehicle operations director, who hatched the idea. But the type of buyer is the biggest surprise -- about 30 percent of purchasers are people who had never set foot in one of Walser's dealerships, which include Toyota, Honda, Mazda, Nissan, Subaru, Hyundai, Buick-GMC, Chevrolet and Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram.
"I think it means we've touched a nerve and found some people who want as little to do with car dealers as possible," Sprinthall says. "It's also a bit of a differentiator. It labels us as being somewhat progressive."
And it gives buyers the ability to shop 24 hours a day, six days a week, Sprinthall says. The feature goes dark on Sunday to comply with Minnesota law.
I'll Take It transactions are routed to Walser's business development center, which contacts the buyer during business hours to schedule a visit for an inspection and to sign the contract. For buyers who apply for financing online, taking delivery can take less than an hour.
About 5 to 10 percent of I'll Take It buyers back out -- roughly the same percentage as among traditional buyers, Sprinthall says. They get their $500 back. "We didn't design this to get rich on deposits," Sprinthall says.
I'll Take It is a small step toward online car purchases, says Brian Pasch, CEO of New Jersey consulting firm PCG Digital Marketing, which works with dealerships on digital strategies. But that prospect "scares the hell out of dealers," Pasch says, partly because they fear they will lose the chance to sell F&I products to customers.
"It just means they need to have a different sales process," Pasch says. "Dealers who are moving toward online retailing are saying: 'People are coming in already preapproved to buy the specific car they want.' The experience is better."
Walser is looking into conducting entire transactions online, which would require the ability to sign contracts electronically. For now, Sprinthall says it's a "huge time saver" just to have the vehicles ready to go and the paperwork completed when the buyers arrive.
Even if the transaction doesn't move beyond a deposit, Pasch says the process likely will evolve to make the Web site "a clearer conversion tool" to turn shoppers into buyers. To create a sense of urgency, the site could show a used-car shopper how many times a vehicle has been viewed in the past week, for example, or show a new-car shopper how many units with a certain color and trim are left in stock.
"You don't see that sort of implied scarcity on dealers' Web sites today," Pasch says. "But that's what can convert the site from a passive tool to an active one."
Sprinthall believes that Walser's no-haggle pricing policy, in place for more than a decade, is an advantage to selling online. He says Walser doesn't market I'll Take It much, but might start to.
"You can buy just about everything else in the world online," Sprinthall says. "It doesn't' seem like the craziest idea in the world to sell cars that way as well."