Car Buyers Want Cohesive Online, In-Store Trips

Not too long ago, it was commonly thought that people shopping for a car would browse on a mobile device but buy in-store or on a desktop computer. After all, the thinking went, who would make a $30,000 purchase on a phone? 

More recently, however, there’s been a massive shift to mobile. 

“Over the last couple of years, we saw that the majority of our not only traffic, but also purchases happened on mobile devices,” Michia Rohrssen, general manager of Upstart Auto Retail, told PYMNTS. “So, people are now buying $30,000 cars on their phones — no problem.” 

Developing a Mobile-First Platform 

Rohrssen has seen this shift happen while building the automotive retail software company Prodigy Software, and now with Upstart Auto Retail, following Prodigy’s merger with the artificial intelligence (AI) lending platform Upstart Holdings. 

On March 9, Upstart announced the launch of its new mobile-first online platform, called Upstart Auto Retail. This integrates Upstart lending and enables shopping on mobile phones, tablets or desktop computers. 

“Mobile has a lot of gestures, so you’re swiping more than just clicking,” Rohrssen said. “It feels more intuitive to be buying a $30,000 car on your phone as you’re swiping to see different vehicles and things like that.” 

Going Farther Down the Sales Process Online 

There are two big categories of car buyers that the company sees going end-to-end online. One is the customer with super-prime credit who’s busy, knows their credit is good, knows the car they want and chooses to just buy it and have it delivered. 

The other commonly seen online buyer is one who has bad credit and is worried that if they go to a physical dealership, they may spend hours there, only to find out that they won’t get approved for a loan. This customer shops online to test the waters and see what car they can get. 

In addition to those customers, many other car buyers are doing more and more online. They’re not just doing what they did a few years ago — browsing and looking at the monthly payments online before doing the rest in-store. 

“We just consistently year-over-year see more customers going farther down the sales process online or buying the car completely online,” Rohrssen said. “People are just more comfortable with the idea.” 

Syncing the Online and In-Store Experiences 

While Upstart Auto Retail enables buying the car online, it also supports those who want to switch at any point along the way and go into the dealership. In this case, the online and in-store experiences are synced so that the customer can pick up at the dealership where they left off online. 

In this case, every salesperson at the dealership has an iPad, checks the customer in and uses the same software that powers the online experience. This enables better service to the customer who goes back and forth between online and in-store — browsing cars online, looking at the cars at the dealership, seeing what the payments would be online and then signing the paperwork at the dealership. 

Because the experiences are synced, this ensures that the shopper is offered the same prices both online and at the dealership. It also prevents the frustration a customer might experience when they spend time inputting information online, only to have to start from scratch when they go into the dealership. 

Instead, the salesperson can greet the customer, pull up their information and see what the customer has seen online. 

When dealerships can support both digital and in-store shopping and treat every customer as if they are shopping online as well as at the dealership, they can provide the best service, Rohrssen said. 

“It’s no longer the online purchase or the in-store purchase — it’s just the car purchase,” Rohrssen said. 



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