When news broke of Hyundai’s deal to sell cars on Amazon, I thought of what that would be like as a consumer.
Apparently, other carmakers are going to sign up for the same, so it bears considering what that future might look like. People can currently shop new cars on Amazon but not buy. Starting next year, Hyundai will be the first whose models can be bought completely on the retail giant’s website, then delivered or picked up at a local dealership, which will be the end seller.
Doing one of the biggest purchases most people make in their lives from start to finish online, at first blush might seem like the ultimate convenience. After all, some people have even bought homes from their computers, a practice that picked up during the pandemic, when in-person home tours were obviously more challenging for all involved.
Carmakers with direct-sales models, including U.S. electric-vehicle market leader Tesla, have also offered all-online purchases of new cars, and some in the industry have wondered if dealerships might one day be cut out of the middle.
BMW, for instance, is shifting to the agency model in three European countries for its MINI brand next year, with retailers to earn fixed commissions, though it’s said it will keep the traditional model in the U.S., where most states prohibit direct sales.
Hyundai and Amazon said their deal will actually “build awareness” of dealers’ selections while offering consumers convenience.
E-commerce is undoubtedly convenient. I recently bought a tea online that’s challenging to find in physical stores, and it showed up on my doorstep the very next morning, with no expedited fee from me. And no tracking it down or fighting Southern California traffic.
But I still do most of my shopping the old-fashioned way. I prefer to use all five senses to check out the product in person, try on the clothes, feel the produce, and of course test drive a brand-new car. Buying the latter online seems like a nonstarter for me.
Granted, I’m not a “digital native,” one of the younger generations who grew up with the internet. No doubt, generations Y and Z as a group likely have a far different reaction to the idea of buying a car on Amazon than I. But I’d bet that the average person will still want to visit a local dealership for this special purchase, even if for no other.
An expert on the floor to answer my questions in real time is not a small thing to want in such a significant process. And I don’t think Amazon can replicate that new-car smell.
Hannah Mitchell is executive editor of F&I and Showroom. A former daily newspaper journalist, her first car was a hand-me-down Chevrolet Nova.