On the corner of a busy main street, dusky old cars emblazoned with neon pink and yellow numbers meant to lure you in are stacked practically on top of each other against the backdrop of a gray building clumsily decorated with faded red, white and blue half-circle banners. The arm-flailing tube man, deflated as he may be, beckons you in. Upon entering, you feel a familiar dread set in. Your perceived nature is your enemy: Fickle woman, uneducated minority, dumb kid. The neon numbers get higher.
These are the images the phrase “used car marketplace” conjures for many people, and for good reason: Everyone from the Department of Motor Vehicles to Allstate insurance warns potential buyers of used car scams. Studies have also shown that even at new car dealerships, women and minorities are offered higher prices than white males because dealers think they know less about the marketplace.
So it’s not hard to understand why people might find the many online used car marketplaces appealing. Shift — which was founded by three ex-Googlers in 2013 and most recently raised $50 million in 2015 — is trying to take that one step further with a new app.
Starting today, people looking to buy or sell a used car on Shift can do so all from their phone. Potential buyers can even book a free test drive straight from their mobile device and sellers can schedule an evaluation of their car. It’s not entirely different from the company’s website, except that the app allows users to set up custom phone alerts.
The service’s primary draw is pricing transparency without the inherent biases some experience at brick-and-mortar used car lots: Everyone is offered the same price, which the company calculates based on past and current prices and suggests to sellers. Shift customers are then given a side-by-side comparison to the average dealership offer. Of course, this is a business; to make money, the company guarantees sellers a minimum sale price. If the car is sold for anything above that, Shift and the seller split the difference.
For now, the Shift app is mostly a convenient way to research and keep track of used cars and order a test drive straight to your door. Buyers can’t purchase the car in-app yet — typically they pay for the car in person after testing it.
That said, the company has plans to continue to develop the app to include features such as an Uber-like automated dispatch for test drives where you’re able to track where the car is in the app. In order to drive up, or at least maintain, utilization of the app, the company is also looking into features that would help owners maintain their cars, like the ability to schedule smog checks and oil changes in the app.
Shift is certainly not the only used car marketplace with a mobile app. Companies like eBay motors and Beepi — which has a similarly sleek app — have rolled out their own apps that, together, make it easy to buy and sell used cars, particularly since you can compare cars on each of these online retailers.
Although many companies in the tech and transport industry have bet against personal car ownership, these startups are bullish about the endurance of today’s car ownership model, arguing that the death of car ownership has been greatly exaggerated. In the end, however, whether buying and selling used cars without being scammed out of your money is a pain point of tomorrow, these apps make it easier to be sure that today’s used car transactions are more transparent and bias-free.