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Today's car shoppers do internet research, use VR to drive online buying tomorrow

Why it matters to you

Will online shopping for your next vehicle be all facts and figures, or will a little come-hither make a difference?

Back in the day, car buying was easy and predictable. You saw a red convertible in a showroom window, walked into the dealership, and eventually drove home in a blue sedan. Impulse buying was a thing in car sales and a sexy showroom come-hither vehicle often did the trick. According to a pair of recent surveys by eBay Advertising, internet research is disrupting the car-buying process by making the whole thing much more rational.

eBay surveyed more than 1,000 consumers in the United States who bought a vehicle in the past six months and data from about 1,000 eBay Motors buyers and browsers. Among the consumers, 87 percent reported using the internet for pricing, ratings, and reviews. The majority, 63 percent said they were likely or extremely likely to buy a car online in the future.

Men and women in the survey agreed on features, both caring most about price, reliability, and safety. About twice as many men than women had purchased vehicles online, motivated by convenience, low prices, variety, and access to options.

Among those surveyed who would prefer to buy vehicles in person, female respondents more often said they wanted to be able to take a test drive while males cited wanting to be able to check the condition of the car. It’s arguable that the men and women were using different words to mean roughly the same thing, that the in-person car experience was the real draw.

The engagement of seeing vehicles on a lot, choosing one that looks and feels right, and spending some time with the car or truck imagining what it would be like to own it can add to the excitement of the purchase — especially in the U.S., where for many people the car they drive is part of their identity. Online car buying based on facts and figures is rational but not as emotional as an in-person experience.

For those who wonder if the romance of car buying will totally disappear, however, technology may be providing the solution by bringing more than just features and numbers to the online car buying experience. “Consumers are already executing prepurchase activities related to online research with increased interest in online automotive experiences,” said Josh Wetzel, senior director of sales and marketing at eBay Advertising. “As more consumers continue to embrace automotive ecommerce for vehicles; enhanced experiences and technologies like virtual reality and artificial intelligence will continue to drive a larger shift to online purchasing.”

Just as the woman in the red dress got Neo’s attention in The Matrix, a snazzy red convertible in a virtual reality auto showroom might have enough come-buy-me power to amp up the excitement.