By Kathryn Pomroy
In 2016, CarSaver launched an online marketplace meant to revolutionize the way the world buys cars. Then, in 2017, retail giant Walmart partnered with CarSaver and opened locations inside Walmart Superstores. Today, the program has been rebranded to CarSaver at Walmart.
Promoted on walmart.com, the program reaches an estimated 140 million Walmart customers, as well as the customers who visit certified dealerships connected to the program. Walmart’s ‘takeover the world’ attitude falls right in line with acquiring CarSaver and it is betting on the program gaining further traction as more and more people (and similar programs) turn from onsite shopping at a dealership to scouring the Internet for car deals.
Chad Collier, CarSaver CEO and Founder, says, “CarSaver has built one of the premier e-commerce platforms in the industry, and we are focused on addressing the number one complaint in America — auto-related problems. Our mission is to resolve these problems and help dealers, manufacturers and lenders deliver the full end-to-end experience that meets today’s customer demands.”
How Does It Work?
Over the past several years, there has been a major shift in how people buy cars. CarSaver’s e-commerce platform provides digital retail solutions for lenders, manufacturers and dealers to sell cars through the largest retailer in the world.
The CarSaver program at Walmart connects customers with certified dealers to shop for new, used and lease vehicles, as well as secure financing and insurance. Buyers go to the company’s website and look for a vehicle, choose a price, and find the dealership that has the car. Customers can also shop for a vehicle inside a Superstore showroom. Buyers then speak with an “auto advisor” on the CarSaver website who can help guide them through the buying process.
Once a buyer finds a vehicle, CarSaver connects them with an express manager who arranges a test-drive. Since transparency seems to be a crucial part of the program, all pricing is upfront and there is no haggling. Buyers can also arrange for insurance and financing as well at the time of pick-up. Buyers looking to trade-in their vehicles aren’t left out as certified dealers bid on vehicles customers wish to sell.
Lifetime Warranty Standard
Clearly, one the paramount aspects of the CarSaver program is the standard lifetime warranty that covers the engine, transmission, and drive axle for unlimited miles and unlimited time as long as the customer owns the vehicle. Those are big words.
Car warranties of 3 years or 36,000 miles are pretty standard and the cost of repairing a major component of your vehicle can be prohibitively expensive. For instance, a new transmission can cost over $2,500 and a new engine can cost more than $3,000. That doesn’t factor in what it takes to fix a squeaky wheel bearing, drive shafts, or replace seals or gaskets.
How, or even if, CarSaver can follow through on such a hefty promise is anyone’s guess – and at what cost to dealers. Although not explicit on the company’s website, there must be exceptions in the program’s small print that customers receive from the dealer, as few warranties come without caveats. *Not available in Illinois.
Certified CarSaver Dealer
CarSaver partners with local dealers, banks and insurance companies to offer a stand-alone experience for the customer. By joining CarSaver, a dealer must meet the following criteria to qualify as a certified dealer.
- Follow Walmart’s pricing standards.
- Employee certified express managers to help guide the customer through the process.
- Complete all service laid-out in the lifetime warranty.
- Give free appraisals on trade-ins
- Demonstrate high customer satisfaction scores and provide pressure-free sales.
While most dealers strive to keep customers happy throughout the buying experience, it’s easy to see how some may find it difficult to adhere to each of these criteria without losing money.
Horne Hyundai in Apache Junction, AZ was a certified dealership until about six months ago.
“We showcased our vehicles inside a local Walmart Superstore. It wasn’t long before we noticed many of the cars coming back to us damaged with small dents or scratches,” said Kim Yett, General Sales Manager, about his experience. “When we reached out to CarSaver, we were told the damage would not be covered. That’s when we cut- off service with the program.”
Over the several years Horne Hyundai was associated with the CarSaver at Walmart program, Kim mentioned that with the money they spent on advertising and the cost to repair the damage to the vehicles, there was just more outgoing than incoming. It wasn’t worth the money to remain a dealer in the program.
As the CarSaver at Walmart program has grown over time, it’s safe to say Horne Hyundai’s experience may not be the norm. However, we reached out to three other dealerships in other parts of the US (who didn’t wish to go on record) and their stories were similar. All three remained CarSaver dealers, but none were excited about the program, citing loss of revenue and costs of repairs.
In CarSaver at Walmart’s defense, the program is just getting off the ground in many areas of the country. It is a new idea from a highly successful retail heavyweight. Walmart Senior Vice President, Daniel Eckert said in a 2018 article in AdWeek, “We’re constantly looking for innovative services that help us save busy families money and time. CarSaver’s unique platform helps our customers understand the true cost of ownership, while also helping them save money with buying, financing, leasing, and insuring a new or used vehicle.”
This begs the question, why not Walmart. Walmart wants to be a one-stop-shop for customers. Both Amazon and Walmart have been duking it out for this #1 spot for years. Walmart’s stores-within-a-store entice customers with everything from clothing and home goods to food and now cars. Come in and stay awhile, and while you’re filling up your plastic bags with all sorts of goodies, shop for that new vehicle you’ve been eyeing.
Even so, it’s not likely that someone shopping for milk or candy is likely to consider buying a car on the same trip to the store. The car-selling service will typically require a special visit. But, foot traffic is money, and customers who shop at Walmart are possibly just a bit more apt to turn over their personal information to CarSaver if partnered with a brand they already trust.
Is it working? CarSaver at Walmart experienced over 300% growth in 2019.
Changes Up the Road
On February 12, 2020, CarSaver appointed Heather Pollard to the position of Chief Operating officer (COO). Formerly the Vice President and Head of Digital Car Buying Customer Experience at USAA, Pollard hopes to “harness the company’s (CarSaver) resources and deliver these cutting-edge tools to the market as quickly as possible.”
She went on to say, “Digital car buying is poised for rapid adoption as auto dealers, manufacturers and lenders recognize that customers are demanding change and expecting greater levels of transparency. With an incredible partner like Walmart, who is focused on saving customers time and money, and CarSaver’s mission to change the way the world buys and sells cars, we have a unique opportunity to bring all stakeholders together to deliver an unparalleled experience.”
CarSaver also recently relocated their company headquarters from Miami, FL to outside Nashville, TN. The move brings the company closer to the heart of the auto industry, including the headquarters of Nissan and Mitsubishi, as well as Walmart’s headquarters in Bentonville, AR.
Driving the Point Home
Like most online auto dealers, CarSaver at Walmart makes it relatively easy to shop and buy a vehicle. CarMax, Carvana, TrueCar and others have all boasted of success over the years. CarSaver at Walmart may be the only online auto marketplace with a lifetime warranty standard, but as CarSaver relies on certified dealers as an integral part of the program, at some point, their opinions may become important enough to tweak the program where needed. Let’s just hope that happens before the in-store showrooms in Walmart Superstores vanish down the road.