My friend and I enjoy home improvement. We often comb through home decorating magazines and websites for ideas.
Our tastes sometimes differ, but we always agree on one thing: Neither of us would ever buy any pricey home decor or appliances online without seeing them in person.
Imagine if that sofa arrives and it is stiff and uncomfortable. Or the custom-made drapes do not fit the window and are not the color they appeared to be online, thereby clashing with existing home decor. It would be quite a challenge to return such items.
I feel the same about buying a car. The ability to peruse resources for ideas, information and pricing is valuable. But when it comes time to make the purchase, I want to drive the car and consult with a product expert.
Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I confess that years ago I bought a car that I had not seen over the phone from a dealer in another state. But I sent a trusted friend who lived near the dealership to test drive it and look it over. Also, I had already test driven that model extensively here in Michigan.
So while industry experts predict online car buying is on the precipice of a consumer frenzy, I don’t buy it.
Look, I know online shopping is popular. But does it pose a threat to car dealers’ brick-and-mortar existence?
A recent study attempted to answer that question. Autolist.com is a mobile-focused new- and used-car search engine in San Francisco. It asked 6,268 vehicle owners nationwide various questions about their car-shopping experience.
The results showed that 43 percent of respondents said the best part about visiting a dealership is test driving the car. Nearly half said the worst part is negotiating price.
About 20 percent of the respondents reported they are “ready today to skip the dealer altogether and buy online,” Autolist.com said in a press release.
Autolist.com’s somewhat self-serving conclusion: “There is a public desire to digitize the car buying process.”
That’s despite 59 percent saying they were “pretty satisfied” with the current car-buying process. When asked what would most improve that process, 32 percent said no-haggle pricing. Just 21 percent answered “no trips to the dealer.”
These results merely reveal to me that a fifth of buyers presumably do not care about test driving a car to ensure that they like how it handles, feel safe in it, can comfortably fit inside and that the blue in the photo matches what they see in front of them in real life. This group of consumers, I presume, will drop $30,000 or more on a vehicle which they may find, upon delivery, is hard to drive, uncomfortable and ugly.
Fine, I concede there are such people willing to embrace those risks.
But that leaves 80 percent of us who, when it comes to certain products -- a car, granite countertops or Roman shades -- if it’s online, we’re not buying it.
Staff Reporter Jamie LaReau covers auto retailing.