AutoTrader Announces New Features That Can Significantly Change The Car Buying Journey


When is the last time you ordered an item online? Was it straightforward? Were the pricing and specifications clear? Did you use Amazon, Walmart, or some other online marketplace giant? What if the online car buying process could be this easy? Would you handle most of the details online, including the negotiation? AutoTrader, the online vehicle search company, is revamping their website to facilitate a more dynamic and responsive online car buying experience.

Consumers Want a Blended Experience

According to a Cox’s Future of Digital Retail study, 83 percent of respondents said they would like to start the car-buying journey online. Along with this, 89 percent want to finish at the dealership. While consumers want the convenience to search and show interest in a vehicle, they eventually want to handle the final details face-to-face. AutoTrader is looking to facilitate this preference with new features they are including.

Self-Penciling a Deal

One of the most discussed capabilities is the “self-penciling” option that allows consumers to send the dealership a price they would like to pay for the car. As a result, negotiations can begin online with the dealer responding to the offer. The F&I process is one of the most tedious to consumers, and this new feature can significantly cut down the amount of time needed to discuss finances when consumers do decide to visit the dealership.

Another feature that car buyers can expect when they visit the new AutoTrader search tool is a Kelley Blue Book Fair Market Range Tool which provides real-time information on car prices. This resource helps consumers understand the pricing of vehicles they are interested in and can help give a starting point for creating a self-penciled deal.

A Personalized Experience

Along with these features, AutoTrader is taking a page from marketplace powerhouses like Amazon. The company will personalize the car buying experience by making recommendations based on the consumer’s shopping history and online shopping behavior. This will aid potential car buyers who are not exactly sure where to start when selecting a vehicle. AutoTrader will also implement faster loading times for the site, so consumers do not have to experience lag in their searching and shopping experience.

This effort by AutoTrader aims to give consumers the convenience they are looking for, and it seems the company is paying attention to online car buying trends. A Cox Automotive 2017 Car Buyer Journey study revealed that 60 percent of the car buying process involves online shopping and price comparison on third-party sites. Before a consumer even visits a dealership’s website, the majority of the time is spent researching vehicles on sites like AutoTrader. The company has identified a sweet spot for these new services.

Likely Competitors

While AutoTrader is breaking ground for traditional third-party search sites, they are not the only company that is looking to handle most of car buying process online. Carvana has shown success in allowing car buyers the opportunity to handle the entire F&I process online. Potential buyers can take a virtual ride in the vehicle, and view a 360 degree look around the car for any imperfections. Once the purchasing process is complete, buyers can either have their cars delivered or pick them up at a Carvana Vending Machine.

TrueCar is another company that touts their commitment to “ultimate price transparency.” TrueCar partners with 13,000 dealers who are committed to transparency and upfront pricing. What sets TrueCar apart from the rest is their feature that allows consumers to see what other car buyers paid for the same vehicle in the individual’s local area. This helps potential car buyers send a quote to dealers based on this information with a higher chance of a more stress-free negotiation. This process can also happen on the company’s mobile app.

Roadster, a car buying website launched in 2013 in Palo Alto, California, is one of the most similar to AutoTrader’s new endeavors. The company positions itself as a middleman between dealers and consumers. Car buyers can shop for a make and model, work with a concierge that locates the desired car and handles all of the negotiation details, finalize all the purchasing information online, and have their vehicle delivered to their doorstep. In turn, Roadster works with dealers to create a modern car buying experience that facilitates the entire online transaction process.

AutoTrader may be one of the most notable brands that are venturing into this new realm or car buying, but they are not alone in their efforts. As they move forward in conducting most of the car buying experience on their platform, other companies will likely start to take notice. As a result, AutoTrader and those like it could facilitate a significant shift in how consumers purchase their vehicles for years to come.