(WASHINGTON) – Imagine buying a new car, on your home computer, in 19 minutes. That’s what MINI, the funky British brand, says is now possible.
The brand recently launched MINI Anywhere, a pilot program in California where MINI enthusiasts can choose their vehicle, apply for financing and sign all necessary documents in less than 30 minutes. The majority of credit applications are approved instantly, according to MINI executive Patrick McKenna.
MINI Anywhere is heading to Florida and Texas and a nationwide rollout to all 115 MINI dealers is expected by the end of the year.
“This is definitely the future,” McKenna, who oversees MINI’s marketing and product teams, told ABC News. “We make dealerships digital savvy in the market. “
The program was designed to make the car buying process easier: shoppers can see what the car looks like in their driveway or parking lot via augmented reality. Virtual trials and guided tours are also possible, said McKenna, who helped run the program last July.
Plus, buying a car with a few clicks isn’t much different from shopping for groceries on Amazon, McKenna noted.
“The younger generation is doing well to transact online without driving a car,” he said.
Karl Brauer, executive analyst at iSeeCars.com, said many consumers would be happy to eliminate the dealership experience – the haggling, the long hours – entirely. The pandemic has forced buyers to be independent and choose vehicles without sales assistance, a scenario that has been largely positive and beneficial, he said.
“We have a new awareness of how much easier it can be to buy a car online with minimal or no physical requirements to visit a dealership,” he told ABC News. “Digital options have been around for years. The automakers were ready. The pandemic pushed him. “
There are drawbacks, of course. Higher prices. Zero negotiation. The inability to see or touch the new vehicle in person. Even impulsive decisions.
“You could end up with buyer’s remorse,” Brauer explained. “Car shopping can be very emotional and it is not wise to make a major financial decision based on emotion. “
McKenna acknowledged that MINI Anywhere might not be the cheapest way to buy a car. The program could also have a potential impact on MINI sales associates, or “automotive advisors” in MINI parlance. But resellers can “reinvent” delivery, he said.
“They have a chance to build [a customer] relationship making it a personal and exciting delivery – a ‘wow’ experience, ”he explained.
Carvana, an online used car dealer, has sold more than 750,000 vehicles since its launch in January 2013. In the last quarter, it moved 107,815 retail units, a 96% year-over-year increase . Second-quarter revenue exceeded $ 3.3 billion, an increase of 198% year-on-year.
“For most customers, buying a car online is easier and a better experience,” Eric Garcia, CEO of Carvana, told ABC News. “The biggest obstacle for the web is building trust. “
Carvana gives customers seven days to return a vehicle if they are not completely satisfied. The return rate is between mid and high figures and more than half of the returns are exchanged for another vehicle, Garcia noted.
“We have definitely found that customers are ready and willing to buy cars this way,” he said. “This is what drives our growth year after year. COVID has accelerated people’s willingness to try new experiences. “
What about the road test that is missing when buying a vehicle online? Not a huge factor in the buying decision, according to Garcia.
“Consumers don’t even know what they’re trying to learn from a test drive,” he said. “People don’t have a very good idea of how the cars feel differently. Consumers are looking for an offer, a good price, and a smooth experience. “
Lincoln, like MINI, has been vocal in sending consumers online to buy its SUVs. However, not all automakers are ready for the digital shift. Genesis, Hyundai’s 6-year-old Korean luxury brand, has stepped up its dealership presence in the United States, building new “permanent residences” in various US cities and markets to drive sales.
“A lot of people still want to go to a dealership and compare vehicles, test them and buy at their convenience,” Tedros Mengiste, executive director of sales operations at Genesis North America, told ABC News. “You can’t buy a [Genesis] car online but can send exact specs to a dealership.
Mark Takahashi, editor of reviews at Edmunds, hasn’t heard of any horror stories about buying cars online. Going to a dealership can be “a hassle,” he said, adding, “There’s really nothing wrong with buying online.
“Dealers are trying to do better… but it’s still not clear if the dealership model will survive,” he told ABC News. “I don’t think buyers are 100% going back to dealerships. “
Brands that tout their personalized service and complex customizations can also move the whole process online, Takahashi said.
“This model can be applied to all car manufacturers,” he said. “Online shopping is more and more ubiquitous and consumers trust it much more for larger purchases. But there will always be holdouts who want to see the car and the samples in person. “
MINI of San Diego officially launched the MINI Anywhere program on Monday after a “dress rehearsal” and is busy educating current customers about the tool online. So far, a customer has purchased a MINI online with the help of Lisa Mitchell, dealership finance manager.
“We did it together [on Zoom] and it took about 45 minutes, ”she told ABC News. “We’re letting customers be more independent now – they can do it their own way. I am excited.”
Whether through a computer screen or in person, Brauer applauds the measures automakers are taking to improve the shopping experience.
“Buying a car should be one of the nicest things you can do,” he said.
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