How Digital is Changing the Car Buying Experience


The automotive industry has evolved rapidly over the past decade.

Due to significant growth in factors like technology, innovation, and media, the industry has experienced changes to customers’ buying journeys to such an extent that 59% of car purchasers now spend their time researching online.

In the US, vehicle sales are slowing down. Consumers are holding onto their cars for longer and buying less often – an average of 6.5 years today compared to 4.3 years just a decade ago.

For automotive dealers facing these challenges, the goal is to make the digital experience work in harmony with the dealership one.

In this article, we explore five key ways digital is transforming the car buying experience.

How Consumers Research Cars

The automotive consumer journey is one of the most complex of all industries. Although customers still purchase their vehicles at dealerships, most of the decision-making and influential moments happen beforehand online.

According to Google, 95% of vehicle buyers use digital as a source of information, and it takes 65% of buyers just three weeks to research online. In fact, twice as many start their research online versus at a dealer.

When car buyers start their research, 6 out of 10 are undecided and open to different models and vehicle options. However, by the time they actually make it to a dealership, they often already know the vehicle they want to purchase.

When it comes to what content they consume, video research is seen as the most popular and effective format for encouraging brand consideration. Views on YouTube of test drives, features, options, and walk-throughs have doubled in the past year, with 70% of people who used YouTube as part of their car buying process being influenced by what they watched.

Takeaway: The most important thing to bear in mind for automotive dealers is to reach and target customers at this undecided stage before they’ve made their decision or been influenced by another competitor.

A workforce that understands how to use digital marketing channels like paid search (PPC, Google Ads) can help your dealership feature on social media platforms that are frequented by your target audience while concentrating on SEO will help improve search rankings – allowing customers to find you easily.

Buyers Don’t Start at the Dealership Anymore

When researching, consumers don’t look for information on auto brand websites alone; they visit comparison sites to check prices and user reviews before even setting foot inside a dealership.

Some 56% of new buyers most commonly start at a third-party site and end up at a dealer website. Year on year, traffic to automotive research sites has increased by 12%, while dealerships have seen a 2% decrease in their websites. Websites such as TrueCar and Edmunds provide customers with relevant and timely information in a few simple clicks.

This rise in the popularity of ‘neutral’ information sources demonstrates the significant need for dealerships to provide the necessary information for customers in a seamless and accessible way online so they don’t have to fish in another pond.

Takeaway: For auto dealers, it’s key to consider having a presence on influential and popular third-party websites both on a local and national scale as part of their marketing strategy to remain the number one choice in the buyer’s mind throughout the entire customer journey.

Technology is Changing the Customer Experience

Video is making the car buyer’s research process much easier while creating an experience that is much more relevant and personalized.

From virtual test drives to 360-degree views of the interior or exterior walkarounds. 56% of car buyers said they could be convinced to buy a car from a 360-degree video without even having to drive the vehicle.

A perfect example of this is BMW’s video campaign “#BMWSTORIES.” The idea behind this campaign was to showcase their customer’s personal stories and how the BMW brand helped them through their emotional, real-life journeys.

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