Buying a used car during the pandemic has changed dramatically – not least because of the rise in home delivery and click and collect options.
With car dealerships forced to close by varying tiered restrictions across the UK and national lockdowns, the uptake of choosing and ordering a used car on a website has accelerated.
In fact, in a recent survey of 3,000 car buyers by What Car? some 43 per cent said they are now comfortable buying a car online – up from 35 per cent in October – and a figure that has been rising ever since the start of the pandemic.
Spotting an opportunity, existing used car dealers and new entrants to the market are all getting in on the action – but only one so far has been brave enough to let us try it out.
Carzam is the latest firm to launch an online-only used car website letting customers buy a vehicle purely online and choose to have it delivered to their home, or to pick it up from one of two collection centres.
Launched by industry experts Peter Waddell, CEO of used car supermarket group Big Motoring World, and former Cox Automotive president John Bailey, Carzam has been busy hiring a clutch of car industry veterans to help make its site a success.
So far, there’s been no numbers released by the firm on how many cars they’ve sold, but it is believed it is performing ahead of expectations.
For this test, Carzam told us to go online and buy what we wanted. The team gave us some dummy card details to punch in that would imitate the car being bought outright on a debit card, and that was it.
With this in mind I sat down to begin my online used car buying journey, which I’ve recorded as a special Car Dealer Live video.
The Carzam website is incredibly functional.
The homepage explains the 14-day money back guarantee (effectively a way of test driving the vehicle to make sure you like it), and other key details like its 100-day warranty, how to part exchange and delivery and collection details.
We shortlisted four cars from the 1,500-odd on sale on the website – a BMW 140i, a Peugeot 208 GTI, a Golf R and a Mini Cooper S. All had loads of pictures and a 360-degree tour of each car.
The information on the vehicles is smartly laid out with the key spec information displayed at the top of the car posts with icons and then an expandable box gives more detailed information if you want it.
The HPI certificates are a nice touch and uploaded to all car adverts and there’s clear information on finance options and how to part exchange on every listing.
Neither of these things I could try out because I was ‘buying’ this car outright and didn’t have an old car to chop in.
However, I did have a play with the part exchange function and it’s pretty simple to use. The site gives you a valuation after you plug in the reg and mileage and answer some questions on the condition.
Once I’d picked the used car to buy, actually completing the purchase was no harder than buying anything else online – it was just this transaction was worth more than £23,000!
In five simple steps I’d keyed in the card details, chosen a next-day delivery slot, answered a few questions, and the deal was done. It was staggeringly simple to use and took a matter of minutes.
Later that evening I had a call from a member of the Carzam team who checked through my details and talked to me about what was going to happen next.
She explained I’d need to tax and insure the car and upload some photo ID to their website that I’d also need to show the delivery driver when my car arrived.
Then it was simply a case of waiting for the BMW to turn up.
Overnight I received a video of the car from the Carzam handover team who showed off the condition and a few of the features – it was a nice touch and made the anticipation of new car day a little more palpable.
I’ve included it in full below so you can see the level of detail they go into and what other customers can expect.
The next day I got an early text message from driver Paul to say he and the BMW were on the way and not long after that the pick-up and the covered car transporter were parked up outside.
Paul wiped down the inside of the car with disinfectant, took pictures of my ID and gave me a thorough hand over, pointing out a few things to note – he even gave it a once over with a chamois before he drove off.
The quality of the BMW was impressive too. It had clearly been prepared to a high standard with alloy wheels that looked like new, highly-polished blemish-free paintwork and a tidy interior. You wouldn’t have guessed it had done 13k miles.
When I met Peter Waddell at Carzam’s preparation centre in Peterborough he told me how they made sure cars went out as good as new because ‘these are new cars to the people buying them’. It’s clear he’s been true to that ethos as the business has ramped up.
Buying a car online might feel pretty daunting, but in fact it’s an incredibly easy process. Ok, you can’t see it beforehand and try it out, but if you know what you want, shopping this way can save time and needless journeys.
It’s little wonder that home deliveries like this one have grown in popularity during the pandemic.
The Carzam site was incredibly impressive to use. It’s not overly flash and doesn’t need to be – it’s functional and works smoothly.
There were no hiccups. The site gave me all the information I needed and the personal touches, like the emails and phone calls along the way, gave me the added confidence I needed when buying from a firm I hadn’t ‘met’.
While buying a used car online won’t be for everyone, the speed and efficiency of the whole transaction was seriously impressive. And if you can find the car you want at the right price online, then I’d definitely recommend trying out buying one in this way.
It’s little wonder then that there’s an air of confidence among the Carzam team whenever I speak to them.
They might not have been first to market, but they sure have created a used car sales service that works. And you know what? There might just be a future in that there internet after all…