How Buying a Car Online Has Changed the Game for Dealerships

Now, more people are choosing to purchase their cars online, and it’s forever changed the way dealerships do business. 360 car photography plays a crucial role here by boosting online presence and revolutionizing online car shopping. It’s the solution that car dealerships can make the most of to grow their market share.

360 car photo tutorial

Carvana turned the auto industry on its head with its then-outlandish “car vending machine” concept. Buy a car online – without ever having test-driven it – and have it delivered to your home. It was an idea just crazy enough to work. And work, it has. Now, more people are choosing to purchase their cars online, and it’s forever changed the way dealerships do business.

For decades, car buying has been a loathsome task for many shoppers. They don’t want to get trapped by pushy salespeople. It wastes too much time. Plus, it’s usually an activity that requires good weather.

When the pandemic hit, banal activities like car sales came to a grinding halt. It all but forced car shoppers to seek alternatives to the traditional process. But even as in-person car sales have returned, more consumers are finding favor with online car shopping. 

In 2020, nearly 30% of all new car purchases occurred online. And it’s not just online-only companies like Carvana leading the charge. Traditional dealerships are building their online presence, too, offering home delivery and pickup services to save their customers a trip to the dealership. Customers can complete the paperwork from the comfort of their own homes without giving up an entire Saturday.

And for the most part, they’re loving this new level of convenience.

Studies show that the average online car buying experience in 2020 took 7 hours and 14 minutes, compared to 9 hours and 29 minutes in 2019. More than half of buyers say they had a positive experience, while 86% claim they pursued online channels to save time compared to a dealership experience.

Several years ago, the thought of buying a car “Amazon style” was unheard of. But to be fair, the same was true of furniture and clothes in the 1990s. People eventually started turning to online companies and digital channels to fulfill the needs that they used to satisfy in person. With the current trend of online car shopping, it’s only a matter of time before this becomes normalized, too.

How Dealerships Can Get Ahead of the Online Car Shopping Curve

To think that online car shopping is a passing trend would be a grave mistake for dealerships to make. Digital channels have only been expanding in size and scope, and online car shopping solves a number of pain points in the traditional approach. (Remember, people used to be able to order entire houses through catalogs!)

With this in mind, it’s time for dealers to lean into the new normal instead of fighting against it. Here are some ways dealerships can get ahead of the online car shopping curve and cater to a larger audience.

Grow Your Online Web Presence

In 2022, every business should have some form of online presence. A couple of decades ago, having a website felt like a luxury. Today, it’s as necessary as a business card or logo.

With more people shopping online for cars, fewer buyers have the luxury of cruising through your car lot to see what you have in stock. They need an easy way to find you, and building your web presence makes it easy to get in front of buyers when they’re actively searching for you.

At a minimum, your dealership website needs to be optimized for online car buying. This means including live chat features so buyers can interact with sales reps, sharing the specs of each vehicle, and showing in-stock statuses.

You’ll also need to optimize your website for search, a process called SEO. SEO best practices help you get in front of active buyers who are using search engines like Google to find inventory in their area. Paid ads, social media, and email marketing also play a role in growing a web presence. The more you can expand your online visibility, the more chances you have to connect with the right people.

Invest in 360 Car Photography for Online Car Shopping

Just like shopping for clothes, furniture, or the latest tech gadgets, car buyers crave details. They want to know exactly what they’re buying and expect you to meet their expectations.

Investing in 360 degree car photography can help you cater to their needs better than standard stock photos. They get a better sense of what a car looks like from every angle, just as though they were viewing it in person. 360 degree photos are akin to holding an object and turning it every which way, giving them all the detail they need to make an informed decision.

An Adobe study found that 91% of consumers say that 360-degree photos are a must for online shopping. Retailer Magazine also found that detailed product photos can increase conversions by as much as 13%. It gives customers more confidence in their purchase (especially such an expensive one like a car). In turn, customer satisfaction increases, making them more prone to recommend you to others. 

Glo3D car photography app makes this process as simple as using your smartphone’s camera. With no photography experience required, dealers can take complete snaps of a car in minutes to create a virtual showroom.

Streamline the Online Sales Process

One of the inherent advantages of buying a car online is the time savings that come with it. However, a process that isn’t well thought out isn’t likely to deliver this advantage to the customer’s expectations.

Your dealership’s process must be set up to accommodate the online shopper. This includes training your staff on the “new normal” and ensuring communication is timely, fluid, and stress-free. It also means having digital contracts ready for customers to e-Sign and the ability to make realistic promises in terms of pricing, vehicle delivery, and financing.

Consider a Hybrid Approach

The BOPIS (buy online, pick up in store) model has worked well for other retailers, and it can easily become a dealership’s competitive advantage. Buyers can initiate the process online, then finalize the purchase in person if they choose. This allows dealers to get facetime with customers and make a strong brand impression, as well as offer tutorials and other information on their new vehicles.

In short, the car buying process is changing, and many buyers believe it’s long overdue. Finding ways to embrace it will give dealerships an early lead over their competitors and help them grow a new revenue stream. Learn more about Glo3D can help you establish a virtual showroom.