Would you buy a car on your smartphone? Many Americans would

August 18, 2016

Love them or hate them, there's no denying that smartphones make life easier for many of us. Need a ride? Book it on Uber. Want to skip the line at the cinema? Open an app and grab some quick tickets. Shocked to see that your beloved new videogame costs $60 in the big box store? Haul out your smartphone and find it cheaper through a web-based retailer.

But what about cars? Using your phone to purchase $10 or $20 worth of books or music is one thing. Using it to buy a $15,000, $20,000, or $30,000 hunk of machinery you're going to use for years to come is another.

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And yet, at least one survey suggests that a significant number of consumers are ready to do just that. 

The survey in question was funded by a company called Roadster, which polled 1185 consumers about their willingness to purchase big-ticket items on their phones. Here are some of the key findings:

  • Men were more willing to buy a car via their phones than women. Among men, 41 percent said that they'd consider doing so, but among women, the figure fell to 21 percent.
  • Consumers with household incomes above $150,000 were more willing to shell out for a car on their smartphones than consumers who earned less. 
  • Location had no effect on respondents' willingness to consider buying by phone: responses were statistically similar in urban, suburban, and rural areas.

Even those folks weren't all that interested in smartphone shopping expressed a desire to see changes in the car-buying experience. For example

  • 45 percent of respondents said that they wanted free delivery of their vehicles;
  • 45 percent also said that they wanted free returns;
  • 44 percent said that they wanted fixed pricing on vehicles (though 31 percent said that they'd be willing to negotiate online);
  • 31 percent expressed an interest in choosing warranties on their phones, and 27 percent said the same about service plans.

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What's the rationale here? It appears to come from two places: (1) consumers generally hate haggling and lengthy dealership visits, and (2) consumers believe that buying online is cheaper. That's borne out by the fact that 43 percent of respondents said that they'd likely save $2,000 or more by buying online, and 31 percent said that they'd shave up to four hours off the buying process.

One thing that consumers did express interest in doing in person, however, was test-driving. In fact 86 percent said that they'd still want to test-drive a vehicle before driving off with it. (That'll be news to at least one analyst.)

Our take

Overall, this survey doesn't contain many surprises. Rather, it reiterates what we already knew: that consumers have become accustomed to buying things online, and these days, that means buying them on phones. Also, though our online shopping used to be limited to inexpensive daily items, these days, we're more comfortable with spending more for online merchandise, typically sight unseen.

However, it's worth noting that Roadster has a keen interest in encouraging consumers to shop for cars online and persuading dealers to move more of their business to the web. That's not to say that the findings are bogus--the survey was carried out by a reputable market research firm, Survata--but it's always a little suspicious when a company funds a study that seems to prove its point so well.

How much legwork do you do online when shopping for a new ride? Would you consider doing it on your phone? What, if anything, would you still want to do in person? Share your thoughts below.

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