Walser Group Launches “I’ll Take It” Online Car Buying Program

August 17, 2012

Road to Reinvention Series

It started in a brainstorming session a couple years ago.

Leaders at the 10-store Walser Auto Group in Minneapolis were looking for ways to meet the changing needs of today’s online shoppers. They came with up an idea to let customers buy cars online without coming to the dealership.

This week, Walser formally launched its “I’ll Take It” program. It encourages customers to complete all facets of their vehicle-buying from the convenience of their home or office—and only come to the dealership for delivery.

“The program’s built to be customer-centric,” says Doug Sprinthall, director of vehicle operations at Walser. “The joke around here is that we’re trying to do what really smart online retailers started doing in 1998.

“We asked ourselves, why not give customers another opportunity to interact with us in the way they want to?” he says. “We’ve got live chat. We’ve got all these different avenues people can use to communicate with us. Why not see if people would be interested in buying cars online?”

Sprinthall says Walser has already sold six vehicles (five used, one new) within the first four days of the “I’ll Take It” program going live. One was a prior customer; another a be-back customer; and four were new customers, including one from Georgia, who found the cars they wanted and opted to buy on the spot.

The program requires buyers to place a refundable $500 deposit through Paypal to hold the car. Customers then complete vehicle financing documents via e-mail and/or an online finance application. They can also opt for warranty and other F&I products via an electronic menu.

Sprinthall says the “I’ll Take It” program gives customers plenty of opportunities to back out of a deal if it doesn’t feel right or a vehicle’s appearance or condition doesn’t meet expectations.

“It’s designed not to trap customers. At every step, there’s a way to stop the process and get a refund,” Sprinthall says. “We asked, ‘what would Amazon, Nordstrom’s or Macy’s do if someone bought something online and didn’t like it?’ They just take it back. That’s the way you do it. That’s the way every retail business works except the car business.”

I like the way Sprinthall and the Walser team is thinking. The “I’ll Take It” program is a perfect example of a dealership on the road to reinvention, seeking new ways to better serve customers.

Perhaps most important, Walser’s program is a also big step toward a more e-commerce driven business model that I believe will become increasingly important for dealers to embrace in the not-too-distant future.

I asked Sprinthall why the Walser group appears more willing than other dealers to venture into this largely uncharted, buy-it-online territory.

“It’s like the story of two guys walking in the woods and a bear approaches,” he says. “One guy is putting on his sneakers and the other asks, ‘Why are you doing that? You can’t outrun a bear.’ The other guy replies, ‘I only have to out-run you.’”