Ford has launched an online storefront in the US which allows customers to search inventory, check incentives and apply for finance before their visit to a dealership.

Customers are able to search inventories at participating dealers, explore tailored incentives including trade-ins, book test drives and lock in price quotes for 48 hours.

The process includes the possibility to apply, through Ford Credit, for financing or leasing options. Ford said in the future it will offer “customisable” purchase and lease options powered by partner AutoFi, a point-of-sale fintech backed by Ford Credit, among others.

The portal, called Ready.Shop.Go, is intended as a preparatory tool for an eventual visit to the dealership. During the online process, customers are assigned a single point of contact at the chosen dealer, as an offline liaison.

The portal has launched in the Midwest, and will roll out to the whole of the US by the end of the year.

Mark LaNeve, vice president for US marketing, sales and service, said: “Our customers are busy people, whether with daily work demands or spending time with their families. Ready.Shop.Go. allows them to find the perfect vehicle online, spend significantly less time at the dealership and drive away with their new ride sooner.”

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“As we worked with our dealers to develop Ready.Shop.Go., it was important to make sure the experience benefited both our customers and our dealers.

“This experience delivers the functionality and flexibility customers need to select a vehicle at their preferred dealership, then apply for financing before ever stepping into a showroom, saving both customers and dealers valuable time.”

Ford has been increasingly experimenting with a bigger role for online in car retail over the last year.

In January 2017, it launched a pilot for online finance applications through Ohio dealership Ford Ricart. In September, it partnered with e-commerce giant Alibaba in China to develop retail and financing in the country, even showcasing the concept of a vending machine-like car showroom.