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Consumers are ready to buy cars online. Again.

How many times have we been here in the past few years?

There have been many stories which claim we’re at the point where there is a ‘critical mass’ of individuals genuinely prepared to hand over tens of thousands of pounds over the web for a car.  But if this is the case, why has it never taken off?

GForces was one of the very early innovators of a genuine online purchasing solution in the UK, yet adoption was exceedingly low.  People still weren’t ready to commit to such a large figure without visiting a showroom at some point in time.  This might be to drive a car, to ask questions in person and get a feel for the service they will receive, or just to run through the numbers.

But even since early 2011, when the GForces solution first went ‘live’, attitudes and acceptance of eCommerce have changed considerably.  There are indications that we are reaching a point in time where consumer attitudes and retailer offerings coincide to create a real online buying market.

In the most recent study, consumer research group GfK has found that attitudes are far more open to online buying.  According to them, almost one third of people aged under 35 years of age would buy a car directly via the web with those over 35 years of age especially receptive to the concept.  Another interesting statistic that this study found was that 80% of respondents considered that they had all the information needed on a new car before they made a showroom visit.

Manufacturers are also showing intent to sell online.  BMW’s electric i3 will be purchasable online, albeit a short, cursory dealership visit will be mandatory during the process.  Mercedes Benz is also planning on rolling out online sales in Germany and Poland.  Fiat’s ‘Click’ initiative took the buying and ownership process online in the UK, enabling customers to arrange test drives (with the car being delivered to their home), finance and specification via the web.  Furthermore, existing owners could arrange all aspects of aftersales work over the internet, with pick-up and delivery provided by a local dealer.

These are just the first steps towards the true online buying experience, however.  The intent and acceptance might be there among consumers in principle, but cars are tactile, intimate and dynamic objects with which people want to form a bond prior to buying.  And the only way of doing this effectively is to experience a car in person.

Dealerships will, of course, become more geared towards facilitating online purchasing with the adoption of better online tools and the restructuring of business towards a collection and delivery service.  But realistically, there is still some time to run before this becomes the norm.

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