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Investigation: What do car buyers want from online car sales? New research reveals customers’ likes and dislikes

Time 11 months ago

Consumers are getting more used to buying cars online and the number happy to do so has accelerated since the pandemic.

Auto Trader has released an extensive piece of research into what consumers want when it comes to buying online.

Commercial director Ian Plummer, speaking exclusively to Car Dealer Magazine in a video you can watch above, revealed that the number of buyers prepared to complete their car purchase purely online is now 41 per cent, four percentage points higher than a year ago.

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And that rises to 61 per cent once presented with the concept of an online sale – one where a buyer choses a car online, has it delivered to their home and has seven days to decide if it is for them.

Although marginal rises, it shows the hard work dealers are putting into their online car buying journeys is worth it. Auto Trader believes there are ‘huge opportunities’ to accelerate online car sales.

The research, which polled more than 1,500 car buyers, found that many liked to do a lot of the more mundane car buying tasks away from a dealership on their own.

Sourcing insurance quotes, checking availability, exploring car finance, arranging delivery and collection and agreeing a price were all highlighted as tasks consumers wanted to do away from a dealership.


Over a third said they’d like to get a part exchange value online, 36 per cent wanted to understand the total cost of ownership and 35 per cent wanted to negotiate the price all online.

Plummer said: ‘When we are saying 41 per cent of people would consider buying online, there’s always a difference between what they’d consider and what they actually go and do.

‘And the actual doing bit is going to be limited by how available that opportunity is and how visible it is.’

Barriers to buying a car online are also falling with the survey showing the number of buyers needing to check a car’s condition prior to purchase falling from 57 to 54 per cent.

Concerns about how it will drive dropped four per cent and the nervousness about buying a car without seeing it in person fell three per cent.

All were still roughly split 50/50, showing there are still a number of consumers where certain barriers to buying a car online are harder to tackle.

Plummer said: ‘In terms of what is stopping people buying online, we found aspects such as emotional points – wanting to touch, feel and look at the car, as well as wanting to drive it were some.

‘If it’s a used car, people want to check the condition of the car. There are also some practical aspects – a lot of people still prefer to finalise the deal in the retailer.’

Of those who have already bought a car online, consumers said the ease of access to information, a broad choice of cars, and being able to complete jobs in their own time were all appealing aspects.

However, these buyers also identified numerous pain points, such as having to sift through irrelevant content, inconsistencies across websites, and a general sense of mistrust in the process, with a concern around who’d be accountable if something went wrong.

Nathan Coe, Auto Trader’s chief executive officer, said: ‘It’s clear there is a meaningful shift in sentiment towards digital retailing.

‘We believe it represents an exciting opportunity for the industry to significantly improve the consumer experience, and in turn accelerate the buying process.

‘If today’s buying cycle could be increased by just 10 per cent, it would lead to circa one million more car sales a year, which would make a significant contribution to the industry’s post Covid recovery.’

Plummer said he was ‘certain’ car dealers who offer an online car sales solution would gain market share.

He added: ‘That’s one of the clear findings in the research. The real opportunity for retailers is to combine their digital offerings with their physical experiences.


‘The challenge is being able to offer a tailored experience that blends the digital and physical for many, but doing a pure online journey more as the technology allows.’

Auto Trader has added a new Buy Online hub to its homepage which helps highlight deals that consumers can do remotely.

Coe told Car Dealer that this will be something the advertising giant will focus on going forward as it looks to help dealers of all sizes offer fully online sales.

‘I think we’re very clear that what we think we can do over the next few years is form a partnership to really transform automotive retail and digitise automotive retailing together,’ he said in a video interview you can watch below.

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‘We can do the technology for retailers, particularly those retailers who feel like they won’t be able to do it themselves.

‘We don’t want our customers to feel like they’re going to get left behind.’

The full Auto Trader research can be viewed here.

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Car Dealer has been covering the motor trade since 2008 as both a print and digital publication. In 2020 the title went fully digital and now provides daily motoring updates on this website for the car industry. A digital magazine is published once a month.

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