The process of buying a new car hasn’t gone away in the middle of a global pandemic. It is, however, finally changing after years of lagging behind other industries.

The car sales industry has mostly been reluctant to embrace a digital future. You can still check out the details of new models on every major carmaker’s website. But actually making a purchase is a different story. Until now, you’ve mostly been required to physically walk into a dealership somewhere. Then you make conversation with a salesman, maybe haggle a little, and close the deal with a handshake and a barrage of signatures. It took a global health crisis, but the shift into the future is finally coming.

A recent Canadian survey revealed that almost half (43%) of people were “likely or very likely” to consider buying a car online. Unfortunately for them, very few dealers have full online purchasing as an option. Sure, you can order a Tesla online and have it delivered to your front door. But why doesn’t Ford or GM offer the same service?

People Will Still Buy Cars

There has been some debate in wake of COVID-19 about the state of the auto industry. Yes, car sales plummeted in the last quarter. A huge spike in unemployment and financial uncertainty decimated car sales. However, the dip will probably be short lived. The same same pandemic that caused buyers to postpone shopping for a new car has non-drivers coming back to the fold, and in need of wheels.

A University of Toronto study found that roughly 25% of regular public transit riders will not return to buses and subways anytime soon. Not until a vaccine is developed, at least. Ride sharing companies are suffering for the same reason, as jumping into a strangers car for a ride no longer seems as safe and convenient as it did earlier this year.

In return, Google searches for phrases like “dealerships near me” and “is it a good time to buy a car” have jumped dramatically. A good portion of people who used to take public transit to work are leaning towards driving themselves when their offices eventually re-open. Frankly, it’s hard to blame them.

Would You Buy a Car Online?

Over 60% of Canadians looking to buy a car soon said they would utilize an online buying option, if available. One-fifth of them said an online purchase option might speed up their decision to buy. Dealers are scrambling to respond to this new demand, as websites start to offer more in depth research options. Some of the new things you’ll find online are “at-home test drives,” car review videos, online car configurators, digital showrooms, virtual reality interior inspections and test drives, and real-time video conferences with salespeople.

The same surveys suggest that the public doesn’t plan to buy fewer cars in a post-COVID world. Just the opposite, in fact. However, many respondents revealed that the pandemic has “prolonged their timeline” when it comes to buying a new vehicle. The shaky financial situation that most families are dealing with right now is the primary reason for putting off a major purchase like a new car.

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Devon is a veteran of the online publishing world, having written about everything from cars to movies, sports to parenting. Although he drives a minivan (#DadLife), he's especially fond of classic muscle cars.