October 25, 2020


The Internet Comes Calling for Car Salesmen (Kyle Stock, Oct. 25th, 2020, Bloomberg)

It took three phone calls to realize how little car shopping has changed in the COVID economy. 

In early August, I resigned myself to buying a new minivan; I knew precisely the one I wanted and found several online that were nearby and listed at fair prices. Yet, I could not manage to click my way to a "buy" button. Time and again, the digital threads ended with the promise of a phone call to finalize the details. That's when the salesmen (they were all men) stepped in with near identical lines of patter. First, they asked what vehicle I was inquiring about to "make sure it was still available." Second, they said that I would have to qualify for the price listed online. Finally, the kicker: "When can you come in?"

The dialogue was so dismissive of both the pandemic and contemporary digital retail that it was almost as nostalgic as it was irritating -- almost. 

A couple days later I spent $29,900 on a two-year-old Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid listed on Vroom, an online-only car dealership launched in 2013. The entire transaction, which included some financing and a trade-in, took slightly longer than ordering a pair of shoes on Zappos.

My experience, it turns out, is not an anomaly. A trio of automotive web stores -- Carvana Corp., Shift Technologies Inc., and Vroom -- have the accelerator pinned, as COVID lockdowns played into business models that are socially distanced by design. Take a look at the charts in our deep-dive on the space. In the next few years, analysts expect 8% to 20% of vehicles to be bought via computer or phone.

"Our biggest challenge is people that don't know we exist," Shift CEO George Arison told me. "Once they know we exist, it's very hard to go back to buying a car the old way."

Posted by at October 25, 2020 5:49 PM