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Sunday Strategist: The Internet Comes Calling for Car Salesmen

Breaking Down the Boldest Bets in Business

An employee wearing a protective mask at a Carvana location in Westminster, California.

An employee wearing a protective mask at a Carvana location in Westminster, California.

Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

It took three phone calls to realize how little car shopping has changed in the COVID economy. 

In early August, I resigned myself to buying a new minivan; I knew precisely the one I wanted and found several online that were nearby and listed at fair prices. Yet, I could not manage to click my way to a “buy” button. Time and again, the digital threads ended with the promise of a phone call to finalize the details. That’s when the salesmen (they were all men) stepped in with near identical lines of patter. First, they asked what vehicle I was inquiring about to “make sure it was still available.” Second, they said that I would have to qualify for the price listed online. Finally, the kicker: “When can you come in?”