Computer says yes..

Need to buy something without too much hassle?

An online market place, let’s say Amazon for the sake of argument (but others are available) is the answer for many of us. There is very little that you can’t buy on Amazon these days. At the click of a mouse you can purchase bikes, beds, jewellery, garden sheds, clothes and much more.  You can even buy obscure items ranging from ‘replica muscle and fat’ to ‘runny nose shower gel dispensers’ to ‘lullaby music for pets’. You can buy just about anything on Amazon. Even cars…

Yes, that’s right. You can buy a car on Amazon. And I don’t just mean the Badonkadonk Land Cruiser/Tank (if you’re interested, it costs just shy of $20,000 and carries cargo or a crew of up to five internally or on the roof, is piloted from within an armored shell or from an exposed standing position through the hatch, the top speed is 40 mph and the price includes head/tail and turn signal lights, trim and underbody lighting as well as a 400 watt premium sound with PA system). Since last year you can also buy more modest / less Mad Max type road cars on Amazon.

Towards the end of 2016, for instance, @SEATofficial sold a limited number of ‘Mii By Mango’ cars on Amazon in France. Buyers paid €500 deposit and were then contacted by a SEAT advisor. After verification of their driving licence and settling the payment, delivery was scheduled within 72 hours, supervised by the closest SEAT dealership.

Whilst this way of purchasing cars presents a huge shift from traditional channels, there is a crucial difference with a ‘normal’ Amazon or other online purchase, namely the direct involvement of a SEAT dealer. This kind of experience is in line with research done by Accent some time ago which showed that an overwhelming majority of potential purchasers showed real appetite for more online functionality but not for a 100% online experience. Apart from wanting to test drive the car (which can actually be arranged without personal contact with the dealer as such) there remained a strong feeling among a lot of buyers that you can only strike the best deal in direct negotiations with a person, not a computer. After all, is the computer going to throw in free floor mats or an upgraded CD player?

Amazon’s collaboration with FCA (Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) works on the same basis. While Amazon offered three @fiatontheweb models (500, Panda and 500L) online the purchase is completed and vehicle picked up at the dealership. During the development stage of this partnership FCA found that up to half of the Italians surveyed would be happy to buy a car online. However, 97% still wanted to pick it up at a dealership.

So maybe a 100% online car purchase is still a step too far? Maybe, maybe not. As always, the key is to give customers the choice. If you want to buy a car fully or almost fully online then you can, and not just through Amazon. @Hyundai_UK, @smartcarUK, @BMW_UK have all recently launched online sales platforms, @VolvoCarUK will follow suit in Q2 of this year. Most platforms provide different levels of online completion, essentially as much or as little as the customer chooses. @Volkswagen, however, is trialling fully online sales of its Up model in Denmark. After ordering and paying online, cars are delivered to a central warehouse for pick up. And, finally, since last week @Peugeot offer Order Online by Peugeot, claiming to be the first manufacturer to allow us to buy its cars in one place and in one sitting and in a mere 30 minutes.

For the time being, however, the general view seems that fully online sales will account for only a proportion. But then again, for many of the products you can buy online it might have been inconceivable to do that online 10 or even 5 years ago.

I guess the question is whether people can let go of that, sometimes overwhelming, feeling of being a star negotiator who would get a much better deal when speaking to a person.

To be honest, the idea of buying a car fully online doesn’t appeal to me. But, equally, the idea of going into a dealership to negotiate on price and extras appeals even less. It’s probably why I drive an 18 year old car and intend to do so until it gives up the ghost. Hopefully by then I will have come round to the idea of buying one online.