Richmond-area consumers who want to buy an automobile from CarMax no longer have to leave the comfort of their home to get their used vehicle.

The Goochland County-based retailer introduced a new program this month in Richmond and in Hampton Roads where the entire car buying process can be handled online and then have the used vehicle delivered to the home.

Or customers can do part of the car-buying process online, such as handling the financing and other paperwork, before completing the purchase in person at the store and driving away with the vehicle.

The chain’s new service, announced Thursday, is now available in Richmond, Norfolk, Newport News, Lynchburg, Roanoke, Harrisonburg and Charlottesville. The home delivery option is available now only in the Richmond and Hampton Roads markets, but CarMax expects home delivery will be available eventually in the other Virginia markets as well.

CarMax, the nation’s largest retailer of used vehicles with more than 200 stores, plans to roll out the service to the majority of its markets across the country by February. It is now available in the chain’s Florida, Georgia and North Carolina markets.

“We believe this is the future of car buying,” said Jim Lyski, CarMax’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer. “This is exactly what the consumer wants. It is full speed ahead.”

CarMax’s new omni channel sales approach is about making the car-buying journey easy and painless, he said.

“It is all about how much or how little a consumer wants to do online. We will tailor it to the individual needs,” Lyski said.

Some customers like to do a lot of the research and paperwork online from home or the office but still want to go to a store to test drive the vehicle. “But you don’t even have to go a store. We can bring the car to your home or office ... and hand you the keys.”

To help customers proceed through the sales process online, CarMax has opened a customer experience center in the Atlanta area — and will open one soon in Kansas — where employees support shoppers over the phone or online.

“If you have questions about trade-in or financing, a customer can ping them or text them or phone or email them and you will get those questions answered,” Lyski said about the employees working at the customer experience center.

“At the end of the day, it is still a very large purchase for people and they want to have the comfort to know they are making the right decision,” he said.

CarMax has about 200 employees at the Atlanta customer experience center with plans to add 100 more employees. The one in the Kansas City, Kan., market should have about 300 employees when it becomes fully operational.

CarMax has three types of customers, Lyski said.

One type of customer goes online and searches for a vehicle and does little else online, going to a store to complete the purchase. That traditionally had been the majority of the chain’s customers.

Another group wants to do everything online and have the car delivered to them. That represents less than 10 percent of the customers in the markets where the new services are available, he said.

The last group does much of the buying process online but wants to come to the store to test drive the car and finalize the deal.

“We believe this will be the majority of the customers. We think a majority of consumers want to swing by a store and see it and test drive the vehicle,” Lyski said.

The chain began offering the new services in the Atlanta market in December.

It expanded to its Florida markets, including Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Orlando, Naples and Jacksonville, in early June. Since then, Lyski said the customer feedback has been “exceptionally strong.”

Transportation industry expert George Hoffer, a professor emeritus at Virginia Commonwealth University, said CarMax is being proactive with its home delivery and new sales approach as more consumers use the internet to do a greater portion of their automotive shopping — including the consummation of a deal.

“Clearly they are staying with the game and being proactive,” Hoffer said. “I applaud them for that. They are staying ahead of the curve. They do not want to be caught flat-footed.”

Is CarMax offering the new options to compete against rival startup Carvana and other similar online car-buying services?

Lyski wouldn’t say specifically. “It is a response to consumer demand and anticipation of where that demand is going,” he said.

But Hoffer said CarMax is reacting to Carvana, where customers can view, purchase and arrange financing for vehicles online and then Carvana can deliver the car to a customer’s home or the customer in some markets can pick up the vehicle at one of the company’s signature automobile-dispensing towers.

“But CarMax has the high ground,” Hoffer said. “They have the physical footprint, which the others don’t have, plus they can aid in the consummation of the deal.”

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