Wind back the clock a few months to when the world was blissfully ignorant to the life-changing coronavirus pandemic and the thought of selling used cars online in any great numbers was usually met with a raised eyebrow.
I’ll be the first to admit that I was one of those rather sceptical folk.
I even said as much in a column similar to this one when I pondered the arrival of Cazoo – the online only used car dealer – that aimed to disrupt the traditional car dealer world.
Set up by serial entrepreneur Alex Chesterman, the man behind Zoopla and Love Film, Cazoo sells used cars online and delivers them to buyers’ homes.
Back in March, just before the real scale of the pandemic was revealed I wrote that I simply didn’t think buyers would swap the ability to tyre kick a used car to buy it online.
How wrong I was. Now, in a world of social distancing and local lockdowns, buying used cars online is a preferred option for many customers.
This has played into the hands of Cazoo that was recently valued at £800m after yet another round of funding raised £25m.
The online used car dealer has been splashing out too – spending £10m a year on sponsoring Everton and you can’t fail to miss its TV and radio adverts.
During the many hours spent at home recently most used car buyers have spent hours whiling away the time looking for their next used car purchase – and it’s those car dealers with a true online sales solution that have realty benefited from this.
It helped that the government first insisted that dealers could get back to work in some form by selling online and delivering to people’s homes.
That confirmation – revealed by Car Dealer Magazine – was enough to kick start the trade back into action and dealers grabbed the opportunity to fast track online sales platforms.
Website providers were inundated with requests for help and sales of online sales solutions rocketed. Some suppliers reported sales up 400 per cent.
Home delivery then morphed into click and collect, a hybrid of online sales and traditional dealer experiences.
The latter was particularly popular with the motor trade and customers. It meant buyers could do all of the boring stuff at home – browse, compare, deliberate and decide, and then head to a dealer to pick their car up and ask any questions.
Dealers are able to offer buyers the chance to view huge numbers of pictures of used cars, get finance quotes and let them take time to learn about other products like GAP insurance and aftercare on snappy videos.
Now the dust is settling and the world is getting used to this new way of going about our daily lives, I’m convinced this hybrid sales approach will be the future for car dealers.
For years, dealers have invested millions into properties in a bigger-is-better mentality that’s designed to wow the buyer when they arrive.
In future, what’s to stop dealers having smaller premises and large preparation and storage centres and concentrate on giving customers the premium experience when they come to collect their car.
Car dealers may become hand over sites where the buying experience isn’t about haggling or deal making – often seen as a negative by buyers – but as a place of enjoyment where they get the new car handover experience.
Huge showrooms for browsing used cars aren’t necessary when buyers can do it all online.
The lockdown taught many industries that not only are buyers very happy to purchase online, they actively want to.
Not only is buying a used car online convenient, but it also helps give those who are still afraid the option to do everything at home.
Social distancing isn’t going away any time soon. This new way of trading will soon become the normal way of trading and dealers who are yet to invest in an online sales solution for their cars will be left behind.
For every customer that wants to come in to see a car, there’ll be plenty more who will be happy to buy it from afar and only visit your dealership to collect it.
Home deliveries will be an added bonus. I know it’s not possible for every dealer to be able to deliver cars to people’s homes, but for those that can it’ll be a welcome option for buyers.
That’ll put businesses set up for this in prime position.
Cazoo may have the head start on selling used cars and dropping them off at people’s homes, but with seasoned used car operators like Peter Waddell entering the market soon with his Carzam model, the sector is about to be supercharged.
Waddell – who tells us all about the Caram model in the video above – is even promising same day deliveries to buyers.
I am the first to admit it when I’m wrong and looking back at my column published before the lockdown my predictions online used car sales would be a slow burner was way off the mark.
Granted, I hadn’t spotted a pandemic incoming, but this transition has happened.
Buyers are going to expect different experiences from car dealers and if you’re not set up to offer it you could very well be left behind.