The concepts of flexibility, instant gratification, and convenience have crept into every facet of our lives as consumers. We can buy anything online thanks to services like Amazon, Walmart, and other major big-box retailers.

Now, contrary to what many may have thought possible, we can now purchase cars online without ever stepping foot into a dealership. This practice is a trend that bucks up against what we have come to know about the car buying experience. One of the major players in this new arena is Carvana. The service allows consumers to purchase a used vehicle online at a fixed price. The service will then deliver it to the consumer within 48 hours. How can dealers offer a comparable level of convenience that is within their scope? Read on for four tips for competing against the likes of Carvana.

Allow Customers to Buy Online – But Have a Flexible Refund Policy

car buying

A few dealerships in Texas have partnered with Joydrive, a company that helps facilitate online car buying transactions and offers home delivery, to sell automobiles online. These dealerships have recognized that while it is true that customers are looking for more of an online experience, they also want the opportunity to try the car out before making a permanent decision. So, in place of a test drive, these dealerships allow customers to return the car in five days (as long as no more than 250 miles have been driven on the vehicle). This process enables customers to feel secure in trying out a car, and it gives dealers a more significant opportunity to show their flexibility and commitment to convenience. Partnering with a company like Joydrive prevents dealers from having to figure out this process themselves.

Responsive and Interactive VDPs

The staff at Carvana know they have to allow the customer to have as much “digital” interaction with the vehicles as possible since they cannot visit it physically. To remedy this, Carvana has 360-degree photos of the actual car. Customers can even look inside the interior to get a genuine sense of the vehicle’s condition. You can do the same and give potential car buyers a preview of what the car would be like. Also, it would help to have the Carfax accessible online to provide customers with more information to make a decision.

Have Staff Accessible for Online Questions

If you are considering a move toward selling vehicles online, then you have to ensure your staff is at the ready to help guide consumers through the process. Instead of having in-person sales staff, these professionals should also be trained on how to become “digital car consultants.” The goal would be to walk customers through the process of selecting the car that is right for them while answering any questions along the way. Carvana is for a niche market that does not have the time to walk into a dealership. However, by allowing for customers to receive online or phone car consultations, customers who want a more convenient experience can still have the best of both worlds.

Transparent Pricing

Carvana uses a fixed pricing strategy for the used vehicles on their website. Dealers like Sonic Automotive also incorporate a clear no-haggle pricing strategy. To compete with the convenience offered by these organizations, you may want to consider utilizing these same concepts for your dealership. Price haggling not only makes some customers anxious, but it also takes a lot of time for a new generation of car buyers who are used to making purchases on-the-go. This practice can also cause the F&I process to move a lot smoother. Helping customers understand why a vehicle is priced a specific way increases trust and makes it more likely they will return.

Final Thoughts

The car buying process has remained roughly unchanged for the past few decades. However, smartphones, faster internet speeds, and companies like Amazon are making on-the-go purchasing something a new generation of buyers have come to expect. While you might not be able to go online entirely, some of the other tactics mentioned above can still create a more straightforward car buying process that can create long-term customers.


  1. As someone who runs a photography business solely dedicated to outdoor, onsite website photos, I find it _extremely_ difficult to sell dealers on quality photos. It astounds me that, they’ll spend millions on a nice facility instead of a pole barn, they’ll spend thousands of dollars on a website instead of hiring a 16 year old in his/her parent’s basement. However…when it comes to that singular moment, when the customer’s “first impression” is formed, when they view a vehicle they’re interested in, what do they get? Snapshots. Just snapshots. Period. The dealer will throw a dusty, Walmart point-and-shoot “camera” or cellphone “camera” at the lowest ranking salesperson and tell them “go shoot some pictures”. And that’s what they get…snapshots. Some will fall prey to companies who promise “above average” or “industry standard” plus “professionally edited” and, at best, they’re just average. Nothing more. I recently spoke with the COO of such a company. He told me that his photographers take about 50 seconds to edit the 20-some photos they take of each vehicle. I’ve used Photoshop for 22 years, doing color correction on vehicles and it takes me about 10 _minutes_ to edit my 26-28 photos/vehicle. 50 seconds Vs. 10 minutes. (And I used a Nikon D5300 DSLR for a few years before just upgrading to a Pentax K-1. I don’t keep upgrading my equipment to impress anyone but I upgrade because my dedication and skills as a photographer allow me to move up.)
    I’ve worked in auto advertising since ’93 and was lead in going all digital photos for a regional used car magazine in ’96. In 2012, amazed at the poor quality of 99.9% of the dealer’s website photos I’d seen, I launched my own company. I was sure that, #1:Dealers found taking photos a real pain and #2:Once they saw how good their vehicles looked, taken by someone who “gets it” about the “first impression”, it would be a no-brainer.
    Incredibly, it’s a given, among auto dealers, that their photos suck but the website is a hook to get them on the lot.
    I’ve looked at Carvana’s website. Their photos are awful! Colors are washed out, interiors are dark. Even light colored interiors are dark. The nature of the 360 cameras used for interior photos, naturally distorts the view, giving you a “fish eye” view. That’s completely inexcusable in my world!
    Why…why are dealer’s set on snapshot pictures? I compete with a 300 person company, based in New Jersey. I have yet to see any of their photographers touch my work. I am completely committed to shooting and editing my work, to easily allow the customer to imagine themselves inside. My colors are dead on, my photos are sharp and corrected for any lens distortion.
    I “get it” that _I_ am the “first salesperson” the viewer will encounter when they go to one of my customer’s websites. _I_ am the first one to show a customer all around their next vehicle. That’s partly why I’m appalled at the lack of quality in dealer’s website photos. My work forms the “first impression”. And, if a buyer should visit my customer’s lot and decide they want to go home and think it over, I get that they might look at my photos and, dang it!!!!, my photos dang well better look exactly like what they saw in person!
    I keep on my phone, a quote by business guru Tom Peters that reads, “Success is about executing what you are doing today with unquestionable, breathtaking excellence!”. That’s what I aim for.
    Yes, there are photographers out there, who have the luxury of placing vehicle in a picturesque setting, lit with perfect lighting who do much better work than I but, for onsite, year round (sunny, cloudy, misting) outdoor photography, I humbly and sincerely have yet to see anyone match, much less excel, at what i do.
    I wouldn’t make such a claim if I didn’t have thousands of photos to back it up. I make nothing extra from you visiting my customer’s websites. (BTW, I only charge $12/vehicle. Hardly a dent in a dealer’s profit margin. I get my own lists of what needs photos from the dealer’s inventory management website, move the vehicles myself, shoot them, put them back, edit and upload the same day.)
    For examples of what I do…every…day…of…the…year, go to and click on either the Dover store or the Chevy store or the York store. While my business, Krepps Specialty Images, has a Facebook page, I don’t have a website because I won’t be accused of “cherry picking” the best of the best. What I give my customers _is_ the best I can do that day.


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