This initiative - they're calling it "Drive" - by the supermarket's own bank is just the latest of several schemes to tempt us away from the horrors of the traditional showroom showdown. A company called Motologic can get a "consultant" to call at your home or office with a lap top. One Stop Car Shop does indeed have a shop and a national helpline to put you in touch with a car of your choice. The Consumer's Association and Marks & Spencer can help you buy a car abroad. When it comes to buying new or used vehicles there have never been so many options for the consumer.
Let's start by pushing our trolley around a supermarket. On the whole, we trust them to sell good food at competitive prices. And although supermarkets have been criticised recently for profiteering, their consumer-friendly image is still largely intact. So it is somewhat surprising that they haven't extended their brands to encompass other services before.
But now they are making up for lost time. Earlier this year Tesco briefly flirted with transport by selling imported scooters for a few weeks, but insisted it wouldn't be extending the scheme to include cars. Sainsbury's, or more precisely, Sainsbury's Bank, has done just that.
Sainsbury's Bank Drive's director of marketing, David Noble, says: "Our research shows that many people still view buying a car as an expensive lump sum purchase, and which is one of the greatest sources of financial worry.
"This not only gives customers the chance to spread their payments, but also the peace of mind that at the end of the end of the agreement they do not have to go through the usual hassle of selling a car. The trade- in value of their car is fixed at the start of the agreement, which makes the whole process simpler for the customer."
Sainsbury's are selling finance, packaged as a personal contract purchase. The period is either two or three years, the current fixed rate APR is 10.9 per cent and the minimum deposit is 10 per cent. A Peugeot 106 1.1 3dr can therefore be put on the road for pounds 98.67. There is also the option of full maintenance contracts which take care of servicing and routine repairs.
You won't find cars in the stacked on the shelves; you simply make a phone call. Sainsbury's are behaving just like car dealers, finance houses and brokers do - nothing too groundbreaking there.
However, a much more radical approach is being adopted by Marks and Spencer. The words M&S and "radical" rarely find themselves in the same sentence, but Marks & Spencer Financial Services is one of the companies supporting a new e-commerce start-up called OneSwoop.com Limited. It will allow consumers to buy cars direct from EU dealers and have them delivered to their doors, achieving significant savings.
"OneSwoop represents an entirely new way of buying cars in Europe," says co-founder Alexander van de Ven. "We think consumers will appreciate the increased price transparency, flexibility and convenience that our new system offers."
OneSwoop.com believes its site is the first to allow car buyers to complete the entire purchase transaction from their desktop and has signed up a number of major strategic partners to support its business. Marks & Spencer Financial Services will offer its personal loans, while insurance will be offered through Fortis Bank.
Purchasers will be able to choose any vehicles, initially from the five highest-volume car manufacturers in Europe: Ford, General Motors, Peugeot, Rover and VW/Audi. The first cars are due to be delivered in January 2000 and will be sourced from dealers in Holland, Spain, Ireland, Denmark and Greece.
The Consumer's Association is also taking the European route, although they it is not getting so deeply involved in the transaction, but will act as a dating agency between UK buyers and European based dealers who are happy to help.
However, if you want to stay in Britain to buy your car but just can't face the thought of going into a showroom, Motologic may have the answer. It claims to be the UK's first independent motor franchise.
A Motologic consultant with a lap top computer and a database of more than 4,000 vehicles turns up at your chosen meeting place. The consultant is paid exactly the same amount of commission whether you are sold a Reliant or a Rolls Royce - the idea being that they won't use high-pressure tactics to sell you an inappropriate car from the range of new and used cars - up to three years old. Finance can also be part of the package.
Arguably this is ideal for those with a busy lifestyles, although prices are fixed. As managing director Roger Mercer says: "They would rather be wasting their time on the golf course than in a showroom".
One Stop Car Shop, currently running a national helpline, a shop in Bournemouth and more to open in London next year, aims to do a similar hassle-free job. It has no stock, keeps prices low and will do its best to get whatever car you want, new or used, from within the UK or abroad. Founder Hugo McKenzie Smith said: "In just five months we are 40 per cent ahead of our targets and have quickly found out what buyers really want, which is for us not to behave like a traditional car dealer."
So is the car dealer dead then? Not quite, but they must adapt, or face extinction. Some will be good at selling expensive niche models; others could concentrate on service and tuning work. Meanwhile car buyers have lots of options and, probably for the first time since car retailing began, can make an informed and financially astute decision. Whether customers want a no-hassle buying environment, the lowest price, or both, they can now shop where they like.
Sainsburys 0800 0960526; Marks & Spencer One Swoop www.oneswoop. com; Consumers Association 0870 9090900; Motologic 0845 300 5608; One Stop Car Shop 01202 314433.Reuse content