Q: I thought online car buying was supposed to be the next big thing to hit the Web — what happened?
–Shane Blake, Baltimore
A: Ah…the best laid plans of mice and men…well, you know the rest. From the mid 1990s to the dawn of the 2000s, there were many attempts to port brick-and-mortar businesses–or just plain bad ideas–to the Web. Remember Pets.com? You remember the sock puppet, though, right?
Online auto retailing was one of those ideas. It was simple, really: Consumers would flock to the Web to purchase big-ticket items, namely, new cars, without the benefit of the proverbial tire kick. It worked for clothing, why not cars, was the prevailing thinking. But there’s a big difference between an angora sweater and several thousand pounds of metal. And converting customers, who are used to the haggling, tire-kicking, and test driving that goes along with the auto buying process, was a bit tougher than anticipated. People just weren’t ready for it. Nor were they willing to trust a new dotcom that was untested. Hence, the demise of some companies, the relaunch of iMotors, and the gobbling up of Autoweb by Autobytel; and Greenlight by CarsDirect.
Like other niches in the dotcom arena, online auto buying has also experienced its share of shakeouts. With too many companies competing in such a tight space, it was inevitable.
So, can you buy a car online? Sure. Is it the best way to buy a car? Well that’s for you to decide. Do you prefer clicks or kicks?