Shift Technologies Inc. Co-CEO Toby Russell told me recently that the online used-vehicle retailer, which went public in October 2020, has the long-term goal of keeping in touch with its customers from when they buy a car or truck all the way through to when they want to sell.
The relationship would include a simple monthly payment and the option to add warranty extension coverage and other finance-and-insurance products such as guaranteed asset protection, or GAP, through Shift.
It's not necessarily something the company will do in the immediate term, Russell said, "but that is our long-term vision for creating a lifetime relationship with our customers — lifetime being through the life cycle of their car-buying journey, starting with the shopping experience, then into the test driving, the buying, the maintaining and eventually the selling of their vehicle. And we envision F&I being part of that long-term relationship that we will be building with our customers."
The buying and selling piece is obvious — every retailer with a pulse wants to sell vehicles and, in current market conditions, buy them, too.
But beyond those points, Shift wants to make ownership a bundled experience, with the aim of one simple monthly payment, and maintain contact with customers through the use of technology.
A simple bundled payment might remind one of vehicle subscription programs, which, especially for used cars and trucks, have struggled to take off with the American consumer. (One of the things Shift has been working to lump into the bundle is auto insurance. So it's worth noting auto software giant CDK Global's planned acquisition, announced last week, of insurance technology provider Salty Dot Inc.)
"While a hypothetical subscription company might say, 'Hey, you subscribe and then you can swap out your vehicle,' we envision something similar: You can come back, sell your car into Shift and buy a new car out of Shift," Russell said, adding that a simplified monthly payment would be the only obligation.
It differs from a traditional used-car dealership, in which a customer buys a vehicle, "and as soon as you buy that car, you're off on your own," Russell said. Used-vehicle customers are often concerned they may have been had — that the car they bought could be a lemon, he said.
Traditional car dealers would no doubt beg to differ with Russell's opinion. Many of those dealers, especially now, are actively in touch with their customers post-purchase and have been for some time.
What Shift is after is less about sending emails about trading your car and more about a holistic and constant-yet-simple relationship, likely controlled via a mobile device. Is it the future of used-car ownership? Shift's leaders think so.