By Philip Reed / NerdWallet
August 30, 2016
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCA) 500 subcompact vehicles sit on display for sale on the lot of the AutoNation FIAT South Bay dealership in Hawthorne, California, U.S., on Saturday, Jan. 2, 2016.
Bloomberg via Getty Images, which has reshaped commerce in many categories, has taken a further step into one of the most dreaded consumer experiences: car shopping.

The Seattle-based internet shopping giant has long sold auto parts and accessories. But Wednesday saw the introduction of Amazon Vehicles, which includes a search tool for researching new and used cars and trucks.

Amazon’s new research features put it into territory occupied by “car finder” tools already available in different forms on many automotive sites. However, the move could be what one company insider described as “a trial balloon” to eventually establish a deeper foray into online car shopping.

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What it could mean, TrueCars and Kelley Blue Book are among the main resources consumers currently use to research cars and get pricing quotes from dealers. If Amazon were to establish links to local dealers, which may be a logical next step, it could become a formidable competitor. By more aggressively trying to sell auto parts and accessories, it could cut into a market dominated by eBayMotors.

“I see this as a way for Amazon to put their foot in the door of the car market and maybe in the future become a lead generator for dealers,” said Oren Weintraub, president of Los Angeles-based car buying service, and himself a former car dealer. “There are many facets to a good car deal, including negotiating a good price for the car and trade-in, leasing and financing rates, and all the back-end products dealers sell.”

Amazon’s new site displays owner star ratings and reviews. Additionally, it allows car shoppers to pose questions to car owners, a successful feature the company has used in selling other products. While the information is helpful to car buyers, a couple of things are noticeably absent: pricing information and access to auto financing. Amazon displays the manufacturer’s suggested retail price, but the actual sales price found on dealership lots is not provided.

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Evolution of car buying online

The internet has vastly changed the shopping process for most products — but not automobiles. Car dealerships do have internet departments through which pricing and negotiating can be handled via phone, email or text, but many consumers are unprepared for the negotiating process needed to get the best price for a new or used car. And upstarts such as CarGurus, Beepi and Vroom are trying to disrupt the auto-buying process by moving the entire transaction online.

Amazon’s new product offering is more modest for now. “Finding cars on Amazon Vehicles is simple — just search like you would any other product,” reads the company’s press release. Amazon’s tool allows shoppers to filter their search based on needs such as features, options, size and fuel economy. Results are displayed in the familiar format the site uses for selling other products.

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Another sign that Amazon is moving into the auto market is its announcement this month of a very limited pilot program that provides test drives for the Hyundai Elantra compact sedan. An appointment can be scheduled through the Amazon Prime shopping service.

Amazon couldn’t immediately be reached for comment about its long-term plans for its new vehicles site.

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