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Dealership Avoidance New Shopping Normal

Dealership avoidance is becoming the new normal for car buyers, according to a new study. It showed that one in six shoppers skipped the test drive and nearly half visited one or no dealers prior to making a purchase.

June 2014, F&I and Showroom - Feature

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Number of Dealerships Visited By Purchase Type
Number of Dealerships Visited By Purchase Type

Car buyers are visiting fewer dealerships. In many cases, according to a survey conducted by DMEautomotive, they’re skipping the test drive entirely before pulling the trigger on a vehicle purchase. But that doesn’t mean consumers are spending less time shopping. In fact, four in five vehicle shoppers said they are using the Internet to visit 10 auto websites as part of their shopping process.

Of the 2,000 car shoppers polled, 16% skipped the test drive and 33% test-drove only one vehicle. Additionally, 68% of respondents said they visited two or fewer dealerships before purchasing a car and 40% said they visited only one dealership. Analysts said the results mean dealers need to shift their focus to virtual interactions in order to woo potential buyers.

“This avoidance of physical dealerships is in stark contrast with how much online vehicle research is happening,” said Dr. Mary Sheridan, manager of research and analytics at DMEautomotive. “More people are stealthily comparison-shopping dealerships and inventory online, and then swooping in to buy when their minds are already made up.”

On average, car buyers test drove only 1.9 cars  before making a purchase, according to the firm, while slightly more than a quarter of respondents (26%) test-drove three vehicles or more. And the customer segment most likely to avoid test drives were women, with 19% skipping it altogether vs. 12% of men.

Results were similar among used-car shoppers, who are typically expected to take more test drives since every used vehicle is unique. DMEautomotive, however, found that 30% of them test-drove only one vehicle vs. 35% of new-car buyers. Additionally, a greater percentage of used-car buyers (18%) reported taking zero test drives than new-car buyers (14%).

When it came to visiting the dealership, the average car buyer visited 2.2 showrooms before purchasing a vehicle. Used-vehicle shoppers visited slightly more dealerships than their new-car seeking counterparts, with 38% visiting three or more dealerships compared to 28% of new-car buyers. Overall, new-car buyers visited 2.1 dealerships on average vs. 2.3 for used-car buyers.

Although car buyers across the board reported a low number of dealership visits, there was one positive for dealers: Car buyers under the age of 35 make more dealership visits than their older peers. According to the study, 63 percent of individuals under 35 visited two or more dealerships vs. 53% of shoppers over the age of 35 — an indication, officials said, that dealers need to focus on providing a modern retail experience that integrates digital and mobile shopping tools.   

“Dealerships can no longer rely on in-store visits and the old ‘be-backs’ to drive sales,” Sheridan explained. “They need to have the most powerful online presence wherever dealer/vehicle selection is happening, and work far harder to keep customers close throughout the ownership cycle, using every retention marketing tool possible, like a constant-connection mobile app.”

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