Buy a Car Off the Internet?

2010 Camaro SS

The other day, I bought a 2010 Camaro SS off the Internet. More specifically, I bought it from Aaron Smith of Motorphilia. They have an interesting business model. But how I got on Aaron’s radar is every bit as interesting a story as the fact that I bought this car, without kicking the tires. And I have some ideas for car dealerships and others who want to understand how a $40,000 product can be sold virtually (oh – and thanks to Aaron Smith’s efforts, I didn’t pay $40K for the car: he found me a great deal).

It Started With a Blog Post

A few weeks back, I wrote a post about how car dealership websites suck. I was frustrated, because I wanted to comparison shop and found that the dealerships within 50 miles of me (and there are many) all had horrible websites with really difficult navigation, and a lack of useful information. Worse still, they weren’t exactly doing much to bring me in for a visit. But I’ll get back to that. First, just realize that I wrote this post.

The post populated on Facebook. Aaron Smith from Motorphilia saw the note in his stream and dropped me a line (FOUR MINUTES AFTER THE POST WENT LIVE). He said, “Hey, saw you were looking for a new Camaro. I found a few you might want to hear about. Interested?”

Lesson #1: The people who LISTEN for business beat the people waiting around for business to find them.

Actually, it Started a Year Before All This

In April 2009, I visited GM headquarters. I got to drive a Cadillac CTS and a CTS-V, but then I got to play with the Camaro RS (the littler engine version of the SS). It wasn’t even out on the market yet. I felt amazingly blessed.

I should put an aside in to say that I’m not much of a car guy, really. Or I wasn’t. I’ve never owned a “cool” car. I’ve owned all (but one) GM cars since I stared driving, though, so it wasn’t much of a stretch to get interested in a Camaro. And why? Because the newer model looks like the Batmobile, and I’m a Batman kinda guy. (Okay, I know someone will say the Corvette is more like the Batmobile, but they’re like an entirely different tribe of people, Vette types, and that’s not my thing.)

But Buying A Car Off the Internet?

I admit that it’s a little weird to buy a car off the Internet. If I hadn’t met Aaron a few times in person (he even gave me a ride around Austin in a Prowler), I might have been a bit less likely to trust a website-based car sale. But, again, when you read Motorphilia’s business model, it feels like they’re the kind of relationship you want to have.

If I didn’t know Aaron, I’d recommend that he put a few pictures of himself and/or his staff on the site. We relate to pictures. In fact, there’s a lot of “we” language on the site, and normally, without any sense of who “we” is, that’s a potential turnoff. However, and here’s the next big lesson:

Lesson: Aaron Smith’s @motorphilia efforts in social media are warm, friendly, and always on.

Aaron and team know the value of social media. He’s active on Facebook, on Twitter, on their blog, and in several other locations, as well. It’s the exact opposite of the mainstream local dealership model. Instead of waiting for people to show up for test drives (and/or sending out flyers and other dead tree products and local commercials), Aaron’s team invests time and effort into human-based connections that they hope to translate into sales.

Trust and Buying Something Sight Unseen

I admit that looking at photos of a car that I intend to buy is like moving into a house that you’ve only seen remotely. It’s spooky. It’s not how things are done. I further admit that I am a bit strange, in that I buy many things off the Internet, so I’m not your typical mainstream buyer. Finally, I will cop to the admission that I knew that if something went wrong, that I’d raise holy hell about it, and that felt like a great insurance policy. But since I dared to do it, I can vouch for the service.

It Requires a Bit of Awareness and Conviction

I already knew that I wanted a Camaro. I already knew the rough price of the car I wanted. I knew that I didn’t want to haggle (my last five cars were Saturns because they sales method is: ‘here’s the price, no matter who you are.’ And all of this really suited the buying scenario of an online purchase. There may or may not have been negotiating room in the price, but I’ve got to be honest: Aaron found me a car that was $4500 less expensive than the three I’d found within 20 miles from my house (and the one he found me had tons fewer miles – only 1100).

If you needed lots of test drives, or if you wanted to really negotiate and do a lot of hand-holding and tire-kicking, then online obviously wouldn’t be a good fit. Also, I can’t advocate taking up a dealership’s time on test driving, only to buy somewhere else. That wouldn’t be the right thing to do.

What Does This Say for Dealerships, Though?

Local car dealerships find themselves in a potential bind. What used to be a sure thing is now far from it. Many car manufacturers had to thin out their dealership relationships over the last few years. Local print and TV media have been decimated making it harder to get a local dealership’s ads seen. Location and proximity help keep some customers at hand, but it clearly didn’t work for me. Will the rest of the Netflix generation feel that way, too?

And if local dealerships keep avoiding the social web, how many more buyers like me will they miss?

Since writing the first post over a month ago, I never once heard from a dealership within 100 miles of me. I heard from one other online dealership, but that’s it. So, no one from the local world claimed my $40,000. It went to Texas.

Obviously, we won’t all just buy on the net. We won’t all forego test drives. We wont have such an affinity for a product that we’ll buy it without a lot of comparison shopping. But there are signals here to consider, and there are opportunities to grow. What follows are a few potential takeaways, and then a couple of videos I shot with thoughts about the car.

Takeaways for Car Dealerships

New 2010 Camaro SS

  • Make your sites more mobile-friendly. Flash doesn’t cut it in the smartphone era.
  • Add listening tools to your marketing efforts.
  • Have a social presence, so you can respond and invite in potential buyers.
  • Work with the manufacturers’ social media people, like Christopher Barger at GM and Scott Monty at Ford (and your manufacturers of choice).
  • Look for alternatives to the current business models, as sales won’t rush up on gimmicks and discounts alone.
  • Consider the after-sale. I just bought a Camaro SS. Do you doubt that I’m prime for aftermarket and/or related offers? Heck, I couldn’t even find my tripometer reset until this afternoon. I’d be a perfect candidate to build a deeper relationship with, and you’d have a sales funnel extension.
  • Equip your buyers with social extenders. People don’t buy cars fast enough for you to build a single relationship. Seek the referral, and the share. Not one local dealership had a Facebook Like button next to each make/model.

The rest, I’ll let you figure out. Or, you can work with me. I might even have some experience in this field. : )

Now, the Videos

I’ve never been much of a car person. I’m not one for spending lots of money. I’m definitely not one for spending money on myself (unless it’s for business materials). I bought the car because I won’t benefit from a cool car when I’m 70. I bought it because I haven’t really celebrated my last several years’ hard work in any tangible way. I bought it because I wanted my own Batmobile. Here are a few videos related to the experience:

On buying a car through Motorphilia:
(apologies for my hair. It was still wet.)

My first night drive in the Camaro:

Thoughts on Buying a 2010 Chevy Camaro SS:

Thanks for indulging me. It was quite an experience, and I’ve been dying to tell the story, but had to wait until the car arrived, and/or until all the bits lined up. I haven’t ever had a second car for my family, so this will also open up some opportunities in logistics. And hey, it’s a darned fun car to drive.

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  • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

    Hi Tim-

    You should know that I’ve *only* purchased and/or driven American since 1988. Not one car has been foreign. Geo, Chevy, Saturn (lots of these) and now Chevy again. : )

  • http://chrisbrogan.com Chris Brogan

    Thanks, #blogchat man. Am I seeing you tomorrow?

  • http://www.motorphilia.com motorphilia

    We feel the relationship is the goal. A sale is just byproduct :)

  • http://www.motorphilia.com motorphilia

    We actually ship worldwide :) And we have clients in Pueto Rico and the Caribbean.

  • http://www.motorphilia.com motorphilia

    You got it Zane :) Thanks for the kind words!

  • http://www.motorphilia.com motorphilia

    shwooo swhooo . . . I think that’s how the sound goes.

  • http://www.associatemelody.com/ Melody

    Love your story Chris and the lesson you shared, which can work for anyone in sales. Congratulations Motorphilia you deserve the sale! I love your point of view, “We feel the relationship is the goal. A sale is just byproduct”

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  • http://raulcolon.net Raul Colon

    That sounds great. I am actually looking for a Nissan Pathfinder.

  • http://raulcolon.net Raul Colon

    I write for a few blogs on the island and it would be great if I can bring your services up to the attention of a lot of potential customers. Let me know how I can help.

    regards,
    Raul

  • http://www.adinhand.info Craig

    30 years in the car business and you are the first person who agrees with me…

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  • Anonymous

    I’ll never buy a car at a dealership again. I buy a new car each year or two and absolutely hate the experience no matter where you go (and I’ve owned BMW & Porsche). I’ll have to look up Motorphilia as I’ve used private brokers in the past. Congrats on the new ride and you definitely deserve to treat yourself!

    • http://www.motorphilia.com motorphilia

      We’re here whenever you are ready or if you have any questions :)

  • http://www.nfljerseyspub.com nhl jerseys

    You should never buy a car sight unseen.

  • http://www.nfljerseyspub.com nhl jerseys

    You should never buy a car sight unseen.

  • http://www.zype.co.uk/blog Andrew Howells

    Chris,

    Thanks for the update on your story. I commented on your original post (quietly) but I thought you and your readers might like some interesting insight and firsthand experience from the UK.

    I’m also really grateful that you purchased your car from Motorphilia – these guys are truly extraordinary compared with the typical car dealer CMS fest I’m used to; what a breath of fresh air.

    One of the additional recommendations that might be in your summary is car dealers need to be able to build trust quickly when a potential customer makes contact, especially when they don’t know each other. We believe the best way to do this is to offer the customer an opportunity to see the car in question live, over the internet, warts and all.

    It’s counter-intuitive marketing; show me what’s wrong with this car and then I might buy it rather than the current dealer philosophy – let me show you 10 great photos on my web site that make this car look good and when we speak I’m going to try and persuade you to come down to my dealership for a test drive.

    It also changes the balance of power in the relationship – a potential customer remote from a dealership but still able to view a car feels more comfortable and in control. In a recent UK survey, 30% of online buyers do not want a face to face with the dealer.

    We launched a service called C It Now which allows the dealer to provide a live video presentation of a car without you needing to visit the dealership. The salesperson and the potential customer talk on the phone (starts with live chat in some dealers); in the end the customer sees a live video presentation of the car via their browser.

    In our post live video questionnaire, C It Now scores 9 or 10 out of 10 – customers love it and to give you some substance to this fact, here’s a link to two interviews we’ve done after the event:

    http://www.zype.co.uk

    The problem, and the punchline to the story is that sales people and management who run car dealerships don’t necessarily like C It Now. A very recent objection to uptake was ‘our salespeople aren’t capable of doing this’ – wow, at least the manager was honest.

    We also have great success too – CarShop do well over 100 live video demos per month.

    If you want to see what sort of videos these guys and other dealers are capable of have a look at our blog:

    http://www.zype.co.uk/blog

    I really appreciate your focus Chris, car dealers suck (well, not all of them),

    Thanks,

  • http://www.hollisteruk.net/ hollister uk

    throw stones, I’m a fan of Apple. I’m on my second notebook and first iphone.

  • http://www.hollisteruk.net/ hollister uk

    throw stones, I’m a fan of Apple. I’m on my second notebook and first iphone.

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  • http://twitter.com/jamesdmcnamara James McNamara

    Thanks for sharing your experience; it stuck with me, as I begin to ponder the next ride for my family. So with this in mind I was delighted months later to run into a local-to-me concierge, Paul Bettencourt, at a recent town day in Massachusetts. As a comparison, Paul provides “personal shopping” branded as I Want That Car (.biz). An even if your “Vestra Via” involves hunting for a used minivan–that can be accommodated :) I got a chance to meet (well, interrupt) one of his returning customers, a couple looking to upgrade to a new used Caddy.

    Aaron appears to be doing a fantastic job of building trust and relationships across the web. I watched Paul do that face-to-face with his customers, locally. It seems both *trust* and *personal shopping/concierge service* are a winning combination.

    Kudos to motorphilia providing that from Austin.

  • http://www.blackfridayplanet.com/ William Hushburn

    I think it would be risky to purchase a car on the internet. It’s the trust that you have to buy first not the item.

  • http://www.blackfridayplanet.com/ William Hushburn

    I think it would be risky to purchase a car on the internet. It’s the trust that you have to buy first not the item.

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  • http://www.doormirrors.ca/ Car mirror

    Great tips for deciding  to buy a car on the Internet

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  • http://www.burnettsmfg.com/ Rubber Moulding

    Nice blog here! Also your site loads up fast!

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