A new online used-car dealership, dubbed HelloCars, joins a growing collection of businesses looking to revolutionise the sometimes frightening world of used-car shopping.
HelloCars enters a segment occupied most notably by SellMyCar and Carzoos – owned, respectively, by the massive new-and-used dealership groups Cox Automotive and AP Eagers.
The service offered by these three outfits is much alike, each promising to help you sell your own car for a guaranteed best price and to help you find a new one, all without the hassle and potential risks of dealing with a private sale yourself.
Likewise, each offers a range of additional promises and assurances, from a no-lemons policy to a cooling-off period, a money-back guarantee, and a thorough inspection on all vehicles bought and sold.
SellMyCar and Carzoos have the benefit of being backed by big, experienced automotive bodies, but HelloCars reckons it has a couple of key advantages of its own: independent ownership, and an online-only service.
"We are online-only, so we don't have the overheads of the expensive showrooms or big sales teams, whereas others have physical showrooms or physical locations. You have to bring your car to them, or they expect you to be more flexible about visiting their offices or dropping your car off," HelloCars marketing boss George Skentzos told CarAdvice.
"Being entirely online, we'll always come out to the customer, we pick up the car, they never have to leave the house. It's like that true online commerce experience. If you buy a dress online, you don't expect to have to go to their warehouse to pick it up," he added.
Above: HelloCars co-founders, brothers Paul and Michael Higgins.
Of course, vehicle delivery and pickup isn't an entirely cost-free experience. If you're in the Brisbane greater metro area, CarZoos will do it free, and HelloCars will do the same if you're in Sydney greater metro area. If you live outside those zones, you'll be given a quote on the transport costs.
But, with or without dealer backing and showrooms – and the cost of delivery for the many outside those metro areas – research suggests a move towards that "online commerce experience" is a smart one. According to the Australian Financial Review, the number of times intending buyers would visit dealerships in 2005 was around five, whereas today it's just over one.
While many enthusiasts and skeptics might still prefer to sit in the car first, take it for a spin, and hit the dealer with some haggling (this writer is among them), there appears to be more than a little interest in the idea of shopping from home: in just 12 months in business, HelloCars says it has processed over $12 million in sales and purchases.
It's little surprise that less-confident buyers, rather than dragging a confident know-it-all friend to showroom after showroom, might prefer to try this approach. Indeed, around one third of Australians are prepared to buy a car online, according to research group Roy Morgan.
Co-founder Paul Higgin says HelloCars' successful first year in the game is proof people are looking for ways to avoid "dodgy" salespeople, instead leaning towards the "ease and convenience" of online transactions.
"The majority of consumers are already heading online to do their research and compare prices of used cars, so moving the transaction online as well is the logical next step," Higgins said.
It's clearly a price of doing business that the manufacturers themselves are beginning to understand, with some, most notably Subaru and Holden, offering one form or another of online purchasing.