The 14-franchise Walser Automotive Group in the Minneapolis area has developed “I’ll Take It,” an online feature that lets shoppers start the purchase process by making a $500 online deposit.

After selecting a vehicle listed on any Walser website (which includes photos, specifications, fuel-economy ratings, incentives and “best price”), customers click on the I’ll Take It button to reserve the vehicle with a down payment using PayPal or a major credit card.

When that’s done, the selected vehicle is removed from the online inventory to prevent more than one customer from tagging it. 

“A few years ago, as we started to think about how we were defining ourselves as a dealer, we decided to put our process online,” says Doug Sprinthall, the group’s new- and used-vehicle operations director. “The guiding idea was if we really believed transparency is the way to do business, then we should become transparent. We established integrity with our 1-price selling model and also having our prices online.”

The company later developed its own lead generator and based on the positive response to its online pricing, built in a function that allows customers to start the purchase transaction online.

The dealership group was inspired by the simplicity of Amazon.com, Sprinthall says. 

“We didn’t have the Internet firepower to get this thing off the ground. All we had was what we thought was a cool idea. We worked with Dealer.com, our Web provider, to design and build the whole thing.”

Dealer.com is developing its own version of the feature called Reserve it Now, due out later this year. 

I’ll Take It, was named for Sam & Dave’s 1968 hit song, “Wrap It Up, I’ll Take It.” When Walser launched its version, the market response was unexpected. 

“We knew we would get a lot of repeat customers and that some people were leaving a deposit on a car they had already seen, Sprinthall says. “What surprised us was that (up to) 20% of I’ll Take It visitors have never been to our dealership before.”

The feature accounts for 10% to 15% of Walser’s business every month, or about 150 units.

“It would be foolish to say it’s all incremental, because a lot of these people are what we call ‘be-backs’ and if we didn’t have this capability they’d probably buy cars from us anyway,” Sprinthall says. “It’s really about creating yet another avenue for the customers to interact with us.”

The thinking is that customers given different shopping options pick the one they’re most comfortable with. Walser’s 3-day return policy is intended to abate the fears of people “who think car dealers want to screw people out of deposits,” Sprinthall says. 

He believes the time has come for programs like I’ll Take It because modern consumers expect online convenience.

“You can buy anything in the world on a computer, and for some reason cars are so special that you can’t,” he says, noting eBay and Amazon list airplanes and yachts for sale. “That’s the way the world is going.”

Sprinthall predicts car selling may reach a point where customers may wonder why they need to go to the dealership at all.

“Amazon is trying to figure out how to deliver stuff with drones, and in the dealer world we’re still telling people ‘Give me your name and number and email address and I’ll tell you how much it is.’”