Does Alibaba's Car Vending Machine signal the Death of the Salesman?

China’s Alibaba wants to make buying cars “as easy as buying a can of Coke” with the announcement that it will be building its own autom...

China’s Alibaba wants to make buying cars “as easy as buying a can of Coke” with the announcement that it will be building its own automobile vending machine. We first saw one in Hangzhou, then in Texas and recently, a mammoth one in Singapore, and now the world’s largest retailer (Alibaba surpassed Walmart to clinch that title last year) is also following suit; this has us thinking that maybe this isn’t just some marketing gimmick after all, and could be how people buy cars in the future.

Read about all these other car vending machines in HangzhouNashville and Singapore.

Alibaba’s online shopping site, Tmall, launched its automotive retail model in June: customers with at least 750 points in Alibaba’s consumer credit-score rating are able to purchase vehicles online by paying 10% upfront and the rest in monthly instalments. The automobile vending machine would complete the car retail model and serve as the collection point, when it is built.

For the type of shoppers who do not appreciate salespeople following them around, this would be a welcomed option - nothing but an interactive screen and a credit card to complete the transaction. For the car salesman though, his would be yet another job being replaced by machines and AI.

Slightly over a decade ago, car buyers over in America would visit five dealers before buying a car, according to consulting firm McKinsey. Two years ago, they visit about 1.6 dealers on average before making a purchase. With the availability of information online nowadays, buyers turn up with their mind pretty much made up, and don’t need a salesman babbling on about what they already know, pushing them to seal the deal.

Does this mean that the death of the car salesman (and all dealers) is imminent? Not necessarily. There will always be shoppers who like going into details of the product with someone knowledgeable, so the role of the salesperson would be replaced by some sort of product expert (think Apple Geniuses). Unless car vending machines are built in great numbers to cater to all car sale transactions, they would only be used for dispensing (and more importantly, displaying) luxury cars, which is what Alibaba's machine will do when it is completed next year. 

So, car salesmen can rest assured their rice bowls are still intact...for now.


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