Is online car buying the norm? 82% of people seem to think so

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In day to day life, consumer demand for instant access to products and services is increasing exponentially. Gone are the days where a TV series could be enjoyed on a one-episode-per-week basis; enter Netflix and the phenomenon of “binge-watching”. Argos and Amazon battle it out to be crowned king of the “same day delivery” service, while the emergence of private, online GP appointment services for those unwilling to wait offer users instant access to a qualified medical doctor through the touch of a button. But how is this trend applicable to such high-consideration purchases as a new car?

The process of buying a new car has come a long way since the days where you would go to a dealership and test drive a few models to see which one you liked before buying it.

You can still do this, of course. But the emergence of online car marketplaces, car finance comparison websites and the growing presence of manufacturer dealerships online has seen an increase in people carrying out a car purchase from the comfort of their own home. These platforms make it possible to order a new car in just a few clicks, often with free delivery to your doorstep thrown in too.

This begs the question, as our lives become more digital-focussed – especially during the COVID-19 pandemic – is online car buying now entirely the norm? How are car buying trends shaping the role of traditional car dealerships?

We surveyed our customers to explore attitudes towards online car buying, car dealerships and how consumer media trends are driving vehicle purchase habits.

 

Key findings

·    82% of people were happy for their car buying journey to be majority/all online

·   Car dealerships still in demand – 37% of people still visit a dealership when looking for a new car

·   63% of people use car finance comparison websites to get the best deal available on the market

82% of people were happy for their car buying journey to be majority/all online

 

We asked our customers on a scale of 0-10 how happy they would be to purchase a car entirely online – 0 being ‘not at all’ and 10 being ‘completely happy’.

A whopping 82% of participants said that they were happy to buy a car online, without seeing it first. Nearly 1/3 of these people told us that all the relevant information they wanted before purchasing a new car could be found online.

This feedback only serves to strengthen the argument that more people are comfortable with purchasing a car that they haven’t necessarily test driven.

So why are the majority of people getting their cars online? Two important factors could be:

 

1.     Availability of research materials – There are thousands of websites and social media platforms that play a huge part in allowing people to research vehicle options quickly. Independent car reviews, video test drives and side-by-side model comparisons are at everybody’s fingertips. This makes it much easier for people to gather all the information they need to make an informed decision about their potential purchase.

 

2.     Demand for ‘the best deal’, done quickly – Advancements in technology have made it easier for people to shop in a savvier manner. Comparison websites for car finance/purchasing are one example of how the journey has evolved. Using clever algorithms they can show virtually anyone the best deal on a car they’re interested in from a few personal and finance details. More importantly, these same companies that ‘broker’ the deals take out the ‘dull’ part of the process, taking care of the paperwork, delivery and sometimes even road tax.

 

2021 spells a year where our technology takes off in a way that merges both these factors to offer new car buyers a ‘one-stop shop’ to find their perfect vehicle.

It seems that manufacturers are following suit too. One of the biggest announcements recently was that Volvo is moving its car sales entirely online by 2030. This was to support its mission of offering customers a “care-free way of having a Volvo, by taking away complexity while getting and driving the car”. It shows how manufacturers are looking to adopt the digital car sales model set by car supermarkets and comparison websites.

 

Car dealerships are still in demand – 37% of people still visit a dealership when looking for a new car

 

Though we talk about the booming business of online car buying, we can’t deny that car dealerships are well and truly still in demand.

37% of people we asked said that they still visit a forecourt when they’re looking for a new car. This isn’t an insignificant number, and much can be said about the importance of the role car dealerships play in enabling people to choose the right car.

For example, all the online research in the world cannot replace the experience of test driving a car – it’s the classic ‘try before you buy’ concept. Unfortunately, most of the car supermarkets and comparison websites leading the transition into a totally digital journey for car buyers can’t access stock in order to offer test drives of their product. This is often something we find to be a barrier for potential buyers entering the market.

Even if car buying is moving online, there’s still evidently a need for a personalised service, something which the digital space can often be guilty of missing. So, a dealership in 2030 might be driven to helping local customers with mobility services or using its access to stock to create a virtual reality (VR) experience that allows people to configure their perfect car.

Manufacturer dealerships are also looking to generate demand by offering car subscription services. These work like a Netflix subscription where you pay a recurring fee based on usage, without the commitment of long-term finance agreements that can put people off. Some manufacturers are already offering these services in the UK, including Volkswagen, Volvo and Lexus. While these services aren’t necessarily dependent on having a dealership to offer them (most can be configured online), there’s an opportunity to enhance the customer offering through the use of technologies like VR.

 

63% of people use car finance comparison websites to get the best deal available on the market

 

Saving people time and money is one of the biggest unique selling points of successful online businesses. Take Amazon for example – a huge online retail marketplace that sells an endless number of products at a cheap rate, often with next-day delivery. People can search for the exact product they want, see if it’s available and order it in a couple of clicks.

This type of instant service is now becoming just as popular with people looking to find their next car. When we asked our customers why they visited our website, 63% of them chose an answer which read ‘I wanted to get the best deal’. These were split into two types of people – those who knew what car they wanted and wanted the best deal (54%) and the rest who wanted the best deal but were open to options (46%).

The data suggests that people have discovered a new way to find their perfect car – one that revives that excitement around the process. Instead of visiting numerous dealerships, viewing endless cars, getting in and out of them, doing test drives and still coming out none the wiser (by this point many people are too exhausted by the whole process and are likely to just choose a car out of necessity). Our customers are telling us that they’re empowered by our technology which finds them the best deal on a car they genuinely like and fits their needs.

Online car buying can be very liberating too. If we use the 54% of people who knew what car they wanted and were looking for a great deal as an example, it’s likely that they were drawn to the idea of not having to speak to a salesperson who could potentially try to change their mind by upselling or making suggestions that weren’t right for the customer. They knew for sure what car they wanted, but needed a service that would simply show them the best deal and arrange the finance as quickly as possible.

The other 46% who weren’t sure of which car they wanted had clearly also found a motive to use an online car finance comparison website. That’s because these platforms are becoming more than just a place to transact. Many of them – Moneyshake included – use clever algorithms that take customers through a journey that asks questions about their car needs, before using the data to display relevant cars tailored to a person’s needs. Put simply, technology is perhaps better placed to make suitable suggestions than a human with pre-conceived ideas or biases to influence their recommendations.

So, to summarise – it’s all down to personal preference. While there’s certainly been a shift towards a solely digital car buying experience, only time will tell if this has been driven by the pandemic or the shift in attitude and behaviour is here to stay.