Today, 60% of the vehicle purchase process is conducted online for both new and used vehicles (according to a R.L. Polk & Co study from Fall 2010)*. That being said, buyers spend less and less time making their decision, so the time frame to convince them is shorter. This trend is especially marked in Quebec, where consumers spend an average of 25 days doing research, compared to 32 days in the rest of Canada**.
Three important studies support this phenomenon, including Google Think Auto’s research on the automotive industry (October 2011), eMarketer’s study on online vehicle shopping (July 2011) and EVOLIO’s survey on the expectations and motivations of Internet surfers during the purchase process (October 2011).
The purchase process in two phases
During the purchase process, traditional media (radio, newspapers, television) come in to play first**. Buyers are in passive mode, storing the information they receive. As their need becomes clearer, buyers go into active mode. They gather information on the models (via independent or manufacturer sites), weigh the alternatives and finally compare prices and promotions on dealer websites. Buyers often choose a brand at the end of this phase, or even the model of their next car. They then head to the dealership, where they read brochures and test drive one or more vehicles. Unsurprisingly, the Internet is used throughout the process and represents the buyer’s tool of choice.
During the online research phase, buyers believe that independent sites are more valuable than manufacturer sites in helping them make a decision. On these independent sites, they look for any information that would allow them to make an educated choice. They read reviews, compare models, research prices, find special offers or promotions and look at interior and exterior photos of vehicles***.
More and more consumers are turning to social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube as well. The online community plays an important role in the decision making process. Through questions and discussions, the buyer’s decision begins to take form. But it’s the last advice they receive that will influence the actual purchase. Don’t underestimate the power of word of mouth and friends and family!
Studying online consumer behaviour consists, among other things, in understanding the expectations and motivations that bring users to start the purchase process and visit the web site of one dealer over another. The main factor, cited by 44% of respondents, is the proximity of the dealership. Although research is broad during the early stages of the process, it becomes local towards the end.
So once consumers have landed on a dealer’s website, what pushes them to actually contact the dealer? The majority of respondents (70%) say they found the vehicle on the dealer’s site, while others (13%) were interested by the promotions***.
Making your inventory available online is crucial.
Buyer expectations when choosing a dealership / Key factors when choosing a dealership
Other than negotiation possibilities (74%) and dealer reputation (71%), buyers want to receive a quick reply to their online request (55% of respondents). Another factor that heavily influences consumers when choosing a dealer is the information available on the site, whether or not they can view inventory, see pictures of the interior and exterior of models, watch videos and even get information on financing options and services.
With consumers spending more time online and, conversely, less time doing research, it has become imperative for dealers to offer a site that meets the car buyer’s expectations.
When they set foot inside a dealership, potential clients today are much better informed about the choices available to them. They will have visited several other dealer sites, and while the choice of dealership is based mainly on proximity, it’s also motivated by the information available online. You have to meet the expectations of consumers during the purchase process to ensure they choose you as their dealer. And it’s equally important to be aware of the latest online trends, three of which currently stand out: the growing use of mobile devices, social media and video sites.
Real time inventory searches on mobile phones, anytime, anywhere.
*eMarketer, July 2011, “Auto Shopping Online”
**Google Think Auto