The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the transition to digital vehicle sales and heightened the importance of effective virtual showrooms. In a timely presentation on the behaviour of car buyers, Richard Dicello, Dealer Sales Director at Autotrader and Gumtree Cars, and Denis Hancock, VP Strategy at BrandSpark International, shared the results of an in-depth Digital Influence Study into new and used vehicle shoppers and recent vehicle purchasers.

The research found that first impressions count, and that even those who ‘shop around’ will return. Being the first Dealer they visit is crucial, as 80% of buyers ultimately purchase from the first Dealer they visit, provided that Dealer has the specific make and model they want. Thirty percent said they bought from the first Dealer they visited, without going anywhere else. Another 33% shopped around but ultimately bought from the first Dealer they visited, while 18% said they only went to another Dealer because the first Dealer did not have the vehicle they desired.

“The message from that is how critically important it is to be that first Dealer that they visit, and focus a lot of marketing effort and investment on early funnel investment, stuff that really draws them in the door early in the shopping process,” Mr Hancock said.

The trend was consistent across gender and age, with the younger demographic more likely to shop around first.

The results also revealed that as buyers increase their online research, digital showrooms are driving purchase likelihood.

“We asked vehicle buyers how important it is that Dealers have an online showroom, including things like dealership name, location, contact information, et cetera. Sixty percent said it’s important to them, and over half (51%) agreed that having an online showroom will make them more likely to purchase from a Dealer,” Mr Hancock said.

“So this is a very important digital asset to have, and have correctly, to really drive purchases at your dealership.”

He said the results found that COVID-19 had not affected the way buyers prepare, with the average buyer spending about six weeks researching, 80% of buyers spending at least two weeks researching, and 97% of buyers having done some preparation before contacting a dealership.

However, nearly half (47%) of respondents who said they were impacted by COVID-19 reported delaying their purchase because of the pandemic, and 25% said it had impacted their budget. Only 19% said it had impacted their search and how they communicated with Dealers.

“A lot of this is because so much of the process was already being done online,” he said.

This he described as “an acceleration of the long-term trend towards consumers doing more of their shopping online”. Sixty-two percent of buyers began their search online, up from 57% last year.

“We expect this trend will continue for years to come. Online classifieds are still the number one resource for vehicle research. We’ve also seen an increase in the percentage of people who use online classifieds overall, now up to 69 percent, a seven percent increase,” he said.

“We’ve also seen rises for dealership sites (55%, up 8%), Manufacturer sites (53%, up 6%), consumer reports (25%, up 7%). So it does indicate that that shopper at home doing that preparation on average is using a few more resources, but things like auto review sites (39%), social media (29%), stayed relatively flat versus the previous year.”

The survey did reveal some gender differences, with women affected by COVID-19 reporting that the effect was to narrow down their options and make them more likely to buy a new car, while men said they broadened their options. Women were less likely than men to be happy to complete the entire purchase process online, and also skewed more towards used cars than did men.

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