min read

Configuring and buying cars online: Still a dream, or approaching reality?

by Sabine Winkler , 25.06.2015

I found a great new yoga outfit when I was doing some online shopping the other day. First I zoomed in to see the fabric up close. This helps to see if the quality is good and stretchable and feels soft – so needed as you cannot "touch" it. I glanced at some reviews, chose my size and color. Click, and it went into my shopping cart.

I work in automotive marketing at GfK, so my thoughts came back to cars at some point.

I began to wonder: Why is it that people aren't buying and configuring their own new cars online so often, just like I did my yoga outfit? Yes, consumers are searching and shopping for cars online - both used and new ones. That's true. A majority first searches online on manufacturers' websites before they ever step foot in a dealership.

So where are we with buying ‘new’ cars online?

We buy used cars online now. But where are we with buying ‘new’ cars online? For now, the number of options are limited how I buy a new car online. There are some sites, e.g. http://www.buyanewcaronline.co.uk/, https://www.uk-car-discount.co.uk/new-cars/ to name just a few. But when it comes to really configuring your car, the number goes down even more. One German site, mobile.de Neuwagen, let me choose all kinds of bells and whistles for my car and it then tells me which dealerships are in my area.

So it is heading in the right direction. Still, it is in early stages and not many people are considering it yet.

Did I just see that?

On the Mini website, I saw that I could order lifestyle products and parts - and I could configure my car like I would in a video game. Picture that one: to put a car in your shopping cart…But the tool was more about sharing the idea than ordering an actual car directly from the manufacturer. But why couldn’t I order it right there and then?


Source: http://my.mini.co.uk/s9d5g0n9

Let’s imagine we order a car online – with all its marketing glory messages

Could be any kind of car – there is no reference to the Mini example. I am just thinking how it could be with all the various marketing messages that could appear…

I browse through the options, decide on the model, accessories, color, etc. etc. and pop it into your basket. Seems quite easy. I am sure along the way, we will encounter something like this:


Of course there is the chat function to ask the question where I can find these cool hubcaps. Solved with a person called Maria (probably all female persons will be called Maria when I type in my question…)

So let’s continue now with my buying process.

Immediately a sign popped up:




What if the message said:


So I happily configure and create my dream car and at the end of the check-out process it gives the option for a voucher code. A quick search online and I found a voucher for 10% off. How easy was that? Quickly typed in, already feeling super excited about this amazing deal, till the website told me:


Hmm, now I don’t even want the bottle of champagne anymore….

Despite my obvious frustration, I kept going and finally got to check out.

Oh, no, the server looks like it might time out, just while I'm searching for my user name, which I scribbled on some paper. Why couldn’t they remember who I was? I looked at their website at least five times in the last week…


What? What does that message say? Did I just read:


Without hesitation I chose the leather seats. So shipping costs solved, too.

The phone rings. I am startled and snap out of my silliness.

Daydream or not, it was fun to think about what the future of online car buying might hold.

I'll leave you with just one more laugh before I head out to practice yoga. It's about the importance of being able to customize your own vehicle and buy it online – if you want to…

Mr. Bean sure knew how to customize his car….


Source: "Rowan Atkinson on a Mini at Goodwood Circuit in 2009" by Nathan Wong - originally posted to Flickr as Mr Bean at Goodwood. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons -https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Rowan_Atkinson_on_a_Mini_at_Goodwood_Circuit_in_2009.jpg#/media/File:Rowan_Atkinson_on_a_Mini_at_Goodwood_Circuit_in_2009.jpg

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Sabine Winkler is Global Marketing Strategic Lead Automotive for GfK.

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