‘Car Buyer Journey’ may offer a route to better store results

050118 IL ‘Car Buyer Journey’ may offer a route to better store results

How well do you know your prospective customers?

Your answer to that question can help determine how successful your business is.

A recent survey, Car Buyer Journey 2018, conducted by IHS Markit and commissioned by Cox Automotive should help steer you in the right direction.

The detailed survey of 2,050 consumers who purchased or leased a vehicle during a recent 12-month period includes findings about:

  • Shopper’s body and mind when beginning the journey.
  • Shopping behavior before visiting a dealership.
  • Point of first contact and buying behavior.
  • How the journey ends for buyers and dealerships.

Each step in the journey provides dealerships with opportunities to boost their business.

State of mind matters

Shoppers overall are spending less time in-market.

But it still takes them almost four months – 108 days to be precise – to make a decision. And that’s about the same amount of time whether they’re buying used or new.

Shopping is driven by buyer need versus want.

Nearly two-thirds of used-vehicle buyers (64 percent) and more than half of new-vehicle buyers (54 percent) are in the market because they need a vehicle. Overall, 61 percent of buyers are shopping out of need while 39 percent are shopping simply out of a desire to purchase another vehicle.

Most car buyers are undecided at the start of the shopping process.

More than six in 10 new-vehicle shoppers don’t know exactly the vehicle they want to purchase, while more than seven in 10 used-vehicle shoppers fit that description.

Many buyers are open to both new and used vehicles.

There is a big difference, though, between new- and used-vehicle buyers, with only 40 percent of the former having considered used vehicles and 55 percent of the latter having thought about new.

COX ADVICE: “Many buyers are open to both new and used vehicles … (and) while car shoppers can be influenced about what to buy and who to buy from, the time to influence and convert them is online, where they spend the majority of their shopping time making decisions.”

Before dealership visit

Buyers want to know the total price of the vehicle.

Transparency matters, including online. About 82 percent of buyers want to know the total price of the vehicle they are considering or the total price along with monthly payments.

Car buyers spend 60 percent of their time online.

Out of 14.5 hours of vehicle shopping, consumers overall spend nearly nine hours online compared to only three hours in the dealership where they ultimately make their purchase. That total is almost 10 hours for used-vehicle shoppers, who spend nearly 15.5 hours shopping.

Third-party websites are the most-used resource for online car shopping.

Nearly eight in 10 shoppers overall (78 percent) use third-party sites, such as Kelley Blue Book, Edmunds and CarGurus, while just over half (53 percent) use dealership sites.

Buyers most often start at third-party websites.

New-vehicle buyers most often start their search at a third-party website and end at a dealer website, while used-vehicle buyers often start and end at third-party sites.

COX ADVICE: “Dealers should focus on unique ways to deliver a consistent overall message across all sites. It is also critical that dealership websites are user-friendly, compelling, easy to search across all devices and accurately reflect the pricing, incentives, services and amenities that are offered.”

Clues to buying behavior

“Walking in” remains the most-common initial point of contact with dealers.

Despite all the conversation around online chat, texting capability and social media, only about 7 percent of shoppers make their initial contact with a dealership through those channels. The rest make initial contact by other means: walk in (49 percent), phone (26 percent) and email (17 percent).

Buyers going to dealerships where they have previous experience?

Only about three in 10 shoppers buy or lease from dealerships where they have previous experience, although that figure is higher for new-car buyers (40 percent) than used buyers (27 percent).

Buyers did not purchase from the first dealership visited.

Less than one-quarter (23 percent) of shoppers purchased or leased from the first dealer they visited. But that’s not all bad news for first dealerships as you’ll see below.

COX ADVICE: “Dealers should focus on creating a positive in-store experience for shoppers and use stocking and acquisition tools to get the right inventory for their stores.” Shortfalls in those two areas account for more than half of shoppers not purchasing from the first dealership they visit.

How the journey ends

Buyers are shopping around less and are less satisfied with price.

An increasing percentage of shoppers are visiting one dealership before making their vehicle purchase. The downside is that an increasing percentage also is dissatisfied with the price they pay.

Buyers are least satisfied with long purchase process.

Although overall satisfaction with the dealership experience was 71 percent, less than half of shoppers (46 percent) were OK with how long the process takes, with financing and paperwork the main culprits.

Prior awareness is critical to F&I sales.

Purchase of F&I products is much higher among consumers aware of them before a dealer visit, so dealers should offer educational resources on their websites and provide opportunities for consumers to learn more about F&I on their own during the sales process.


“A simple, pressure-free shopping experience, transparent pricing and a set price or non-negotiable price model can help build customer satisfaction … Dealers should strive to shorten the deal-making purchase process – particularly through streamlining F&I paperwork and negotiations – in order to enhance customer satisfaction and improve loyalty and retention rates.”

Of course, these results are generalizations based on consumer responses to the Cox survey, so your dealership’s results and/or experience may be different.

But the results still provide some useful benchmarks against which you can measure your store.

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