Third-party shopping sites are consumer-research havens. Could they one day become platforms where people purchase vehicles -- without visiting a dealership or dealership website?
The digital retailing wave rolls on as more dealership groups embrace the concept of consumers buying vehicles online. Some use shopping portals from tech companies such as Roadster while others, such as AutoNation Inc. and Penske Automotive Group Inc., have developed their buying sites in-house.
Meanwhile, third-party stalwarts such as Autobytel, Autotrader and Cars.com are considering a future where they could go beyond their current roles as inventory hubs and gateways to dealership sites. This evolution would allow consumers to browse listings, settle on vehicles and then close deals using buying tools on third-party sites, without necessarily visiting a dealership's site.
Such a move would require third-party platforms to redo their plumbing and form new partnerships with players such as finance companies, which would be needed to handle the credit-approval process for consumers. And they would have to get dealers to agree to sell vehicles on these sites in the first place.
Still, "There's no reason it can't be done," said Scot Hall, executive vice president of Swapalease, a site that enables consumers to transfer existing vehicle leases. He also is a former dealership finance and insurance manager. "Many dealers will look at it [and say], "Hey, if it's a sale at a price that I've already approved, why would I not want to do that?'"
While this sounds far off, the wheels are already turning. Just look at the company that was there at the genesis of digital auto sales in the 1990s.