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ONLY 16 per cent of all vehicle purchases are made online and only 11 per cent of those were through the online service of a dealership, according to global research on buying habits.

But the researchers, UK-based YouGov, said that while large differences exist across customer groups when looking at past online purchase behavior, “our forward-looking consideration figures show an optimistic, consistent theme of increased interest in buying cars online, regardless of region or buying age.”

“From a global perspective, nearly 30 per cent of all future car buyers say they will consider buying online through a dealership, a rate nearly three times greater than those who bought online previously through a dealer,” it said.

YouGov said that despite some lag in the incidence of online car buying globally, there are markets and consumers that have been far swifter to swap the dealership experience for a digital one. 

“Globally, consumers in China (35 per cent), India (31 per cent), UAE (29 per cent), and Hong Kong (28 per cent) all greatly outpace the global average (16 per cent), far outdistancing Europe (12 per cent) and the US (nine per cent),” the researcher said.

“Higher adoption in these markets is driven by many factors, including a younger car buying population and greater engagement with digital commerce in these markets.”

The data shows that Australia is sitting at 15 per cent, compared with the US at nine per cent, while the UK, Germany and France are at 14 per cent.

YouGov said that US car buyers show higher intention to avoid the price negotiation, which will drive them towards online car buying.

In Europe, it said there was a greater hesitancy in the adoption of online car buying (compared to global data), with in-person experience being a more attractive option. 

“The opportunity and need for increasing the omni-channel and digital retail in Europe is significant,” YouGov said.

“It requires a focused strategy by the automotive sector to build the infrastructure and the trust of the car buyers.

“The traditional path of buying, in person from a dealership, was the majority approach, comprising nearly three-in-five of respondents’ most recent global auto purchases. 

“Buying a car in-person from the prior owner (private sale) was a distant second at 18 per cent of all purchases.”

YouGov said when it comes to age groups, Gen Z (31 per cent) and Millennials (27 per cent) are most likely to purchase a car online

“That’s not necessarily surprising given the fact that these younger buyers are ‘digital natives’ and generally are more engaged in e-commerce,” it said.

“On a regional basis, the 25 to 34-year cohort shows the greatest incidence of past online car purchasing across all age groups in Asia-Pacific (including Australia), the UAE and the US.

“It is worth noting, current online buying in the US lags global averages across every age cohort. 

“The online adoption curve looks a bit different in Europe, where 33 per cent of those aged 18 to 24 have purchased online, the highest figure amongst our global comparative set. 

“However, online car buying penetration in Europe drops well below those of APAC and the UAE for all age cohorts 25 years and older.”

YouGov said that it sees growth across all regions, with the most impressive jump in intent being the US, which is forecast to go from seven per cent of past purchases to nearly 40 per cent of future purchases considering to buy online, the highest rate among all regions. 

“Similarly, we observed large positive gaps between past behavior and future consideration when looking across age cohorts globally,” it said.

“While customers between 35-54 years of age showed the greatest jump, every age group climbed 15-plus points, including the 55-plus age buyers who have been slower to embrace online buying. 

“This is important data as automotive makers and dealers need to build and fine-tune the customer experience so that it works across a very broad prospective customer base.” 

YouGov said its research showed that the omni-channel experience for car buyers must be flexible, reliable and secure, to ensure smooth purchase behavior changes. 

“Automotive manufacturers and online retail providers must provide flexible omni-channel experience to meet the demands of the future car buyers,” it said.

“The ability to get the best price and test drive are important factors for future car buyers.

“The ability for price negotiation and test drive must form part of the omni-channel customer journey.”

By Neil Dowling