The changing ways people shop for cars

car shoppingCar shoppers consider many different things when researching potential vehicle purchases, but ultimately make their decisions based on just one or two factors, according to a new report from C+R Research.

The study, commissioned by both C+R and Cars.com, found that the majority of consumers seek control during the car-buying process. They use independent research sites, visit dealerships and discuss the purchase with friends, as opposed to relying on traditional advertising channels.

“Consumers can be overwhelmed by automotive content, but rather than tune it all out, they’re selecting the pieces that are most valuable to them, effectively curating their own car-buying experience,” said Simon Tiffen, senior manager of advertiser insights at Cars.com.

“They’re willing to put the time in to gather all the information they need so that they’re confident when they eventually head to the dealership.”

The majority of consumers report being influenced by six to seven sources in their buying process. Of those sources, only one or two end up being used as primary decision-making tools. These “go-to” sources are typically viewed as the most helpful and trustworthy by consumers.

Traditional advertising fared poorly. Only 9 percent of shoppers were influenced by outdoor ads, while just 8 percent cited radio advertisements as influencing their buying decisions.

Meanwhile, digital sources have a significant impact on vehicle and dealership consideration: Two out of three shoppers referred to an online source as being one of their “go-to” resources, and nearly half of shoppers cited independent research sites as being a primary shopping tool.

Online research is a substitute for dealership contact as only half of all car shoppers reported contacting a dealership prior to visiting, with most believing it was unnecessary given information available online.

The study shows information provided by independent research sites, manufacturer websites, dealer websites and review sites give shoppers the information they want, when they want it, without having to visit a dealership to do their homework.

Most shoppers are influenced by at least three online sources, and two-thirds of consumers refer to an online source as one of their go-to resources. These digital resources play complementary but distinct roles in the consumer research ecosystem, and shoppers decide what role each site plays for them. That makes it essential for auto marketers to maintain a consistent presence across these channels to build shoppers’ confidence as they encounter various bits of information across platforms at various stages of their online research.

“Not all sources are the same, and consumers are quick to realize this,” said Tiffen. “Each source serves a different purpose during the shopping journey, which makes understanding context critical.”

– Cody Lyon

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