van and deliver Our man takes delivery of a new Volkswagen Crafter without leaving his house
In the space of a working week I ordered and took delivery of a van in the same time it might take a parcel to come from Amazon
The pandemic has made home shopping more popular than ever. Everything from the weekly groceries to soon-to-be abandoned sports equipment, to equally doomed books, can land at your door with just a few clicks of a mouse or taps on your phone.
But what about something much, much bigger? Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles set us a challenge this week, telling us that we could buy a brand new Volkswagen van from the comfort of our sofa and have it delivered. Challenge accepted.
There has been talk of the potential to be able to buy vehicles online for years, but the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the need for this to work.
With retailers, by and large, shut unless you are taking delivery of a pre-existing order or dropping your van in for a service, brands have had to work extra hard to make more of the process virtual and free from human contact.
Naturally enough, a car or van is a pretty enormous and considered purchase; it's not like buying a pizza. But many potential owners don't need a test drive if they are repeat customers of a particular model. According to Niamh Duffy from Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles, the buying process now features much fewer visits to a showroom anyway.
"Ten years ago, a customer might make several visits to the showroom when purchasing a new van, but in recent years we have seen that number fall dramatically as customers are doing so much of their research online before ever coming to see the product, she said."
The van I chose to 'buy' was Volkswagen's largest van, the Crafter. So my first port of call on the iPad was the Volkswagen Vans website and its Vehicle Configurator. There was a choice of Crafter Panel Van, Crafter Dropside or Crafter Chassis Cab. I chose the Crafter Panel Van and went into Trim Selection; there are three.
Since I spent Volkswagen's money, I went for the Highline model with a 2.0-litre TDI 140hp Manual Transmission. I added standard equipment such as heated leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel and Climatic Air Conditioning and a Rear View Camera. Call me traditional, but I think a van should be white, so that was the preferred choice.
Configuration done, this generates a code, and from here I get in touch with a Volkswagen dealer, in this case, Frank Keane's in Liffey Valley. Ger Colwell runs their commercial vehicle operation in that retailer.
But what about finance? Can we do this online too? Well, yes. Now that we've selected the Crafter from the Configurator, we go to the finance calculator on volkswagenvans.ie, then I click on "Apply for Finance" and I am taken to the online finance application form. I fill in the initial details to begin the process, I'm contacted to confirm a few details, my application is then sent to the underwriter for a credit decision, with the details of the proposal provided to the dealer to follow up with me later.
Twenty-four hours later, finance approved, my dealer called me to tell me finance was approved; they had the van I wanted in stock, and it would be delivered to me later in the week.
"We are seeing a big change in the way customers research vans now," Ger Colwell, commercial vehicle manager, Frank Keane Volkswagen tells me.
"Customers are increasingly interested in the ease of purchase, and they want to take vehicles from stock."
Ger tells me on the phone that the van will arrive in 2-3 days to my door and it will come with a video handover outlining the main features of the vehicle.
Sure enough, a few days later, the Crafter arrives. The van's delivery is a little unusual as it lacks the usual tactile handshake and interaction but it's perfectly safe, with Ger dropping it over himself. I have a new van in my driveway, finance is taken care of, and I haven't left the house.
With the space of a working week I have ordered and taken delivery of a van in the same time it might take a parcel to come from Amazon. And while it might not replace the showroom experience, it shows there is an alternative.
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