Like a store owner investing in e-commerce to supplement walk-in sales, a Bakersfield car dealership has launched what may be the city's first online platform allowing shoppers to complete most of the vehicle-buying process at home.
Jim Burke Ford Lincoln's new Express Car Buying system, developed by an outside vendor, takes buyers from car selection to pricing to financing options. Along the way they can get an offer for their trade-in vehicle, complete a credit application and review service plans.
Customers ready to finalize the purchase can stop into one of the dealership's two locations to sign paperwork then drive off.
"The vehicle will be ready to go when you arrive so you can sign and hit the road," the company said in a news release. "It's that easy."
The sales platform is less an advertising or marketing tool than it is a way to serve Internet-savvy customers who increasingly come into a dealership knowing the type of vehicle they want to buy and what price they expect to pay.
Jim Burke Marketing Director George Hay said the new platform applies to new and used vehicles alike. If the dealership doesn't have the buyer's preferred car in stock, he said, employees there will find it for them.
He shared an email sent earlier this week by a couple who made the dealership's first sale through the new sales platform. In the message, customer Penny Lewis called Express Car Buying easy to use and complete "except for the signatures and the truck keys."
"We basically purchased (her husband) Denny’s truck from the comfort of our living room!" she wrote.
Officials with the California New Car Dealers Association trade group said Wednesday many dealers have begun using online tools as a way to speed up and "digitize" the vehicle sales process. The association was unable to estimate how many car dealers in California have introduced online platforms similar to Jim Burke's.
John Haddad, co-owner of Bakersfield's Haddad Dodge and Haddad Kia, said his dealership does not offer a similar online buying experience. But eventually, he added, it probably will.
Even so, Haddad said he leans more toward person-to-person sales, complete with the persuasive whiff of new-car smell.
"Me personally, I think it’s really nice when they come down and look at the car, test drive the car," he said. "It’s a large purchase people are going to make."