Carvana vs. Vroom: Who's winning the online car buying game?
In the past three months, I have purchased a car twice. I used two of the biggest “purchase online” vendors in the industry and thought it would be interesting to compare my experiences with each and the marketing lessons that can be learned. (More on the online car buying industry here).
MY EXPERIENCES | VROOM
PRE-PURCHASE: On December 30th, 2017, with two months and two days to go on the lease I was in, I headed to Google to start the process of buying a new car. I had a specific budget in mind and knew that I wanted to try a “purchase online” vendor. I started looking around and quickly uncovered what seemed to be the two biggest vendors in this space - Carvana and Vroom. The brother of a friend of mine had just gotten a job at Vroom, so I decided to go with that company for my car purchase. (Clarification: he was not my sales rep for this purchase.)
On the same day, I found the car I wanted and started the process. Vroom has you fill out an online application form and then you wait to get a call from their sales team when the paperwork is reviewed. I got a call a couple hours later, and then was sent a link to upload documents (proving income, etc.). The link didn’t work and so over the course of the next couple days, I had to upload my documents a few more times. Then, paperwork needed to be overnighted to me. I was traveling, but the sales rep didn’t seem concerned about that, so he overnighted my paperwork to the location I was at. I left that location before it ever arrived.
PURCHASE AND DELIVERY: Over the course of the next 18 days, the paperwork was overnighted back and forth four times. Each day that the paperwork was expected to arrive, I received 2-3 phone calls from Vroom reps pestering me to see if the paperwork had been delivered (isn’t that what tracking numbers are for?). My monthly payment price (and total finance price) changed twice in that same period, due to Vroom sales rep error. I had to go to my bank and get a cashier’s check to pay the down payment (and then overnight that to Vroom as well). Finally, a delivery date was set and I was able to get excited for my car!
Unfortunately, the delivery date had to be changed due to some kind of transportation error. A new delivery date was set (for five days later) and no adjustments or apologies were made for the inconvenience. The night before the new delivery date, I received a phone call letting me know that he’d arrive between 6:30 and 7:00am the next day and he’d call me when he was an hour out, so I could meet him at the delivery location a mile up the road from me.
The morning of my delivery, I never received a phone call. At 6:35am, I drove up to the location and saw that the delivery semi was already there and my car had been unloaded off the flatbed trailer. I got out of my car (in the rain) and walked up to the semi cab (which was still running) but nobody appeared to be inside. I knocked, but got no response. I headed back to my car and tried calling Vroom (nobody answered) and the transport company listed on the semi cab (nobody answered). Unsure of what to do, I decided to wait, thinking the semi driver had just run inside the Kmart we were parked in front of.
At 7:02am, I again walked up to the semi cab and knocked, hoping for a different response. The semi driver emerged a couple minutes later from the back partition of the cab, where it appeared that he had been sleeping. He opened the cab door and handed me the key so I could walk around, and then handed me his phone to sign. During the delivery, he never got out of his cab, just sat in the passenger seat and had me reach up to get things. I was forced to reach essentially into his lap multiple times to retrieve items (and his lap was above my eye level, due to the height of a semi cab). It was an incredibly uncomfortable experience to not be sure what to do, have to knock on the cab and basically wake him up, and for him to not even get out during delivery, all at 6:30-7 in the morning when it's pitch black outside.
CUSTOMER SERVICE EFFORTS: When I shared all of this with Vroom (at my own initiation, not because they checked in to see how delivery went), they initially didn’t even respond to my email. When they finally did respond, they simply said that they would “forward this to the appropriate departments so that we can continue to work towards making each buying experience better than the last.” I replied, pressing for a better resolution, considering that I had essentially been sexually harassed by the delivery driver, and their response was to make my first month’s car payment.
Accepting this, I thought that was the end of my terrible experience with Vroom. However, at the time of my first payment, no payment was made. In fact, 8 days after it was due, still no payment had been made (and interest was continuing to accrue, not to mention I was getting multiple calls a day from the finance company and incurred a late fee). I followed up three times with Vroom and finally on the third try, I was told they reimburse afterwards and don’t actually make the first payment on your behalf. There was no apology and in fact, the customer service rep argued with me about the whole situation, even though the initial reimbursement offer was made via email (in writing). I am still waiting on that reimbursement check.
MY CAR IS TOTALED
On March 9th (two months after starting this purchase process and 6 weeks after taking delivery of my car), my car was totaled due to a 40 car pileup on I-94. I went through the process with my insurance to figure out what to do and started thinking about a new car. Ironically, four days later on March 13th, Vroom reached out to start the process of registering my car (you’d think that would have been handled sooner than two months post-purchase).
MY EXPERIENCES | CARVANA
PRE-PURCHASE: When I started the purchase process a second time, I knew I wanted to use a “purchase online” company again, but I knew it was not going to be Vroom. I went back to my searches and returned to Carvana, the other leader in this space.
PURCHASE: I headed to the Carvana website and in under 30 minutes, I’d found a car, applied for financing, been approved, signed the contract, and submitted my bank information for the down payment. Whew! What a breath of fresh air. No contracts being sent back and forth, no phone calls, nothing.
DELIVERY AND CUSTOMER SERVICE: I did end up calling into the Carvana team (because I uploaded the wrong proof of income document) but they were awesome and the phone call was five minutes, maximum. Easiest process ever! I then scheduled my delivery date online too and then I was completely finished.
A couple days before my delivery date, I received an email saying that they needed to move it because winter storms on the East Coast were impacting their ability to get my car to me. The email had a phone number, I called, and within 10 minutes I had a new delivery date and a reimbursement check coming for the rental car I’d need for the additional days between original and new delivery dates. Wow! Vroom didn’t even offer that as an option!
I haven’t yet taken delivery of my new (new) car, but I can honestly say that the Carvana experience has already been lightyears ahead of the Vroom one in terms of customer service.
MARKETING LESSONS LEARNED
I initially chose Vroom because of the perceived trust factor - a real human being that I know actually works there. But the truth is that Vroom was actually my absolute worst car buying experience ever, and I’ve purchased or leased six cars thus far in my short lifetime. Customer recovery is one of the keys to a great customer experience (and a great NPS - net promoter score). There are companies that I’ve had terrible experiences with that had incredible customer recovery and I rave about them as a result. Vroom had an opportunity to do that here and they completely missed the mark.
Not only that - but they opened up a twenty-something woman to sexual harassment without much regard or true apology for the situation. I’m willing to bet that the semi driver doesn’t even know that he was reported to Vroom, because his employer is a subcontractor of Vroom. Carvana’s end-state delivery drivers are all true Carvana employees.
What lessons do you think Vroom could learn from Carvana (or this experience specifically) to better their marketing efforts?
UPDATE - 6 MONTHS LATER
I have since taken delivery of my car from Carvana. When the delivery date arrived, they were able to deliver my car right to my apartment (I didn’t have to drive a mile up the road, like I did with Vroom) and the delivery was great, I even drove the car around the block before they left. They also gave me a care package - some interior wipes, a travel coffee mug, a phone mount for the air vent, etc. - as a thank you for being a Carvana customer.
In the time since delivery, I received my title for the Carvana car and my permanent license plate in a timely manner (less than a month from delivery date). I also have continued to receive calls from Vroom about registering my Vroom car (even though the first time they called, I shared that the car had been totaled).
REGARDING SEXUAL HARASSMENT: There are some folks in the comments below citing concerns with my labeling the Vroom situation a sexual harassment situation. I’ll first note that when I talked to Vroom about the situation, the customer service rep echoed my perspective on how uncomfortable the situation had been and how it was “borderline sexual harassment” (my words were “essentially sexual harassment”). Second - I am a 5’4” woman and was not reaching into the window of the semi, I was reaching up into the seat area, as the door was open. Regardless of commenters’ perspective on the situation, I was the one that was there and I was the only one able to judge the uncomfortableness of the situation I was placed in.
Sexual harassment is defined as “sexual harassment or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.” I would qualify having to reach into an individual’s lap, regardless of gender, sexual harassment. His unwillingness to hand me items and indicating that I should reach to get them only furthers the uncomfortableness of the situation.