It used to be, in earlier days of ecommerce, that even buying clothes completely online could raise an eyebrow.

The argument was, you can’t buy a shirt and a pair of shorts without trying them on first.

“That sort of fell and now clothing is the biggest ecommerce category,” said Andy Moss, chief executive officer of automotive ecommerce platform Roadster.

Is car-buying going the same way? 

Granted, buying a vehicle completely online — which Moss' company facilitates — is a much more expensive and complicated process than buying an outfit, but it has gained traction among consumers.

And many, according to Roadster’s survey of 1,185 consumers, are even willing to make such a purchase via smartphone.

The survey, conducted in partnership with Survata, found that almost a third of respondents were willing to consider buying a house or car directly through their smartphone.

Roadster chief marketing officer Michelle Denogean said in a phone interview that among people who have shopped for a vehicle on their smartphone, half would consider purchasing a car on that same device, entirely online.

“So what our survey is telling us is that people are looking, as they’ve experienced e-commerce in all these other channels, for a lot of the conveniences that come with being able to do those things online,” she said.

Of course, the test-drive is still a key element: 85.7 percent of respondents still said they want one before buying a car.

They're everywhere

It’s not just Silicon Valley or other metropolitan tech hubs.  It’s also Toledo and Greensboro.

Respondents to Roadster's survey hailed from midsize cities across the map, Denogean said.

Roadster said in a news release that location “had no bearing on consumer perception.” The willingness to buy a big-ticket item via mobile was found in areas throughout the country.

“You’d think that with any (technology-based) trends that it would maybe start in tech-related cities, but from our survey we’re seeing that this is really a nationwide phenomenon,” Denogean said, “that of the people who have purchased cars already online, they’re everywhere.”

Convenience factors

So, what amenities do consumers want in the car-buying process? For starters, much of what they can already get from ecommerce platforms in other industries.

Forty-five percent want free delivery, 45 percent want free returns and 44 percent are asking for fixed pricing.

“In general, what we’re seeing is that consumer expectations from all these other buying experiences are coming over to what they expect from car-buying,” Denogean said.

 In essence, they want “elements of the car-buying experience to be automated,” she said.

Whether that’s beginning the process online and finishing at the store, or starting at the store and finishing at home, “the majority of people are looking for that type of convenience in their car-shopping experience,” she said.

More comfort with buying online

Based on the energy behind online car-buying over the past two to three years, it appears (at least) that the comfort level around such a transaction is up.


For one, Moss said, you can buy pretty much anything else completely online. That started with items like books in the late 1990s and evolved rapidly since then, as it now includes everything from food delivery to travel — even complicated travel arrangements that once would require an agent.

Cars and houses have bene “the last two hold-outs,” Moss said.

Roadster aims to “take complexity out of it,” he said, acknowledging the in-depth process involved with buying a car.

“But each step of the way, the goal is to make that feel like an ecommerce transaction that you would be used to in another category,” Moss said.

Other key findings

  • Men (41 percent) were almost twice as likely to consider buying a big ticket item on their smartphone as women (21 percent).
  • Folks in the $150,000-plus income bracket were more likely to buy online.
  • 43 percent believed they would save at least $2,000 by buying a car on the smartphone.
  • 31 percent believed they would shave three to four hours off the transaction time.