First steps into online retail bode well for future

One of the main criticisms I hear most about car sales is that they’re generally behind when it comes to online sales.

Despite manufacturers and large dealer groups often having flashy, expensive websites, more often than not, the end of the experience is a trip to your local dealership to actually make your purchase.

In some ways, this criticism is unfair. Cars are hugely complicated machines, with sometimes hundreds of possible configurations available per model. Then throw in finance – which has all sorts of extra regulatory hurdles to clear, and is arguably even more complicated that the car itself, and it becomes easy to see why buying cars on finance is so far behind buying a CD on Amazon.

Then there is the retail model which the automotive industry follows. This is driven by residual values, with people selling old cars, which are then resold to new customers. This all happens at dealerships, which are usually distinct companies in their own right. Manufacturers rely on dealerships in many ways, so any online store will need to bear this relationship in mind.

Thankfully, it appears that manufacturers are beginning to figure out how to make it work.

While there is still a long way to go, and the process remains complicated, manufacturers are starting to dip their toes into online sales.

Ford in the US is leading the way here, and it has just launched an online webstore. This online store is actually offered through a dealership in Ohio, Ricart Ford. You still won’t be buying your Ford from the manufacturers online site, but you can buy online from a Ricart Ford dealership. And in the future this may be true for any number of Ford dealerships.

Under the current model, through the new dealership website, customers are able to purchase and finance their vehicle on their mobile device or PC, after which they’ll need to sign the final paperwork when they collect the vehicle.

The website has the functionality to choose finance terms, apply for the credit and receive a decision.

This is very much a first stab at things, and it’s likely we’ll see all sorts of changes in the future. For now, though, it is encouraging news that a manufacturer as large as Ford is experimenting in this space.