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E-Commerce Platform Disrupts Car-Dealership Model

E-Commerce Platform Disrupts Car-Dealership Model Joan McGuire

A Bay Area tech startup streamlines the buying and selling of used cars. 

Anyone who has bought a used car is familiar with the hassles and risks of such an endeavor. Price gouging and hidden mechanical problems are just some of challenges consumers face.

Shift Technologies, which announced its Portland launch this week, aims to streamline the buying and selling of used cars through its e-commerce platform. Launched in June 2014, it is the latest Bay Area tech startup to disrupt the retail space. 

Shift’s website is an online catalog of used cars that the company owns. Consumers can do a detailed search of the kind of car they seek. Once they have picked a car they are interested in, a concierge delivers the vehicle to their location for a test drive.

The cars have passed an in-house inspection, and each car comes with a Carfax report detailing its history. Buyers who want to test-drive more than one car can do so at Shift’s Portland facility. 

The company processes all payment and paperwork, including DMV forms, title and registration. It also partners with lenders for buyers who need a loan. 

Sellers also can sell directly to Shift. The company will send an offer after the seller submits answers to a questionnaire about the car. Parties settle on a final price after a Shift representative inspects the vehicle. 

shiftdotcomhomepageThe Shift online platform where consumers can shop for used cars

Shift prices cars using an algorithm based off the “ton of data” it has on vehicles, says co-founder and CEO George Arison. He says the company almost never changes the original price it offers for a car after inspection because of the detailed data it can pull on the vehicle beforehand.

It sold 8,500 vehicles in 2018.

The company has partnered with Medford-based car dealer Lithia Motors to use its pricing data. It is also using Lithia Motors-owned real estate in Portland for a test-drive facility.

The Shift model is similar to Opendoor, another Bay Area tech company that buys and sells houses through its online platform. Opendoor recently launched in the Portland residential real estate market.

RELATED STORY: Tech company eyes Portland real estate market

The launch of the platform is bound to worry traditional car dealers, which rely on brick-and-mortar stores for sales. Like any retailer, car dealers need to tackle how to address consumer preference for shopping online.

Arison dismisses the idea his model could put dealerships out business. “We don’t view our model as a replacement for car dealerships,” says Arison. “There is so much to do on the used-car side.”

Investors seem to have confidence in the model. Shift has raised $300 million in the debt and equity markets. Investors include Highland Capital Partners and Goldman Sachs Investment Partners. Lithia Motors is the largest shareholder.

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Kim Moore

Kim Moore is the editor for Oregon Business magazine.

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