The 100 percent online transaction remains elusive. Even retailers who market their abilities to sell vehicles online still must send paperwork back and forth through the mail or deliver a packet of forms to be signed when the vehicle is delivered.
One Carvana buyer told us about a purchase that required four online chat sessions, eight phone calls and 15 pieces of paper to sign upon delivery — and he had arranged his own financing.
But even though a vehicle purchase still isn't as simple as clicking and buying a pair of shoes on Amazon, many customers appreciate the simplified buying experience that the advance in digital retailing tools can bring about. I've heard from many who don't mind the FedEx packages or the sheaf of papers to sign when the vehicle arrives. They figure it is saving them time and headaches in the long run.
Indeed, Cox Automotive's 2019 Car Buyer Journey study found that customer satisfaction increases for new- and used-vehicle buyers who handle at least part of the process online. About three-quarters of buyers who handled their paperwork electronically were satisfied with their experience, vs. 65 percent of those who handled paperwork in person. Buyers who negotiated their deals online also reported that they had a slightly more satisfying dealership experience.
With vehicle buyers demanding better experiences, more automakers and retailers are signing on to offer digital tools. I imagine that will continue to ramp up in the months and years ahead. Whether it's moving fast enough is another question. Isabelle Helms, vice president of research and market intelligence for Cox Automotive, wondered just that when Cox released its study in April.
While dealerships in certain markets, particularly in more rural areas, may not encounter widespread demand for digital retailing tools, it's easy to see a day in which the ability to transact online is just another building block of the dealership model.