Researchers at AutoTrader.com conducted a survey to learn how car buyers connect with dealerships at each stage of the buying process. The results were surprising: Despite the apparent prevalence of a variety of new devices, including smartphones and tablet computers, car shoppers still rely heavily on their desktop or laptop computers.
The survey found that only 23 percent of car shoppers are utilizing two or more devices. That percentage, however, should climb to 52 percent in five years, AutoTrader predicts. “We are clearly still in the early stages of multidevice car shopping, but the 77 percent who are left will be hopping on the bandwagon soon enough,” said Isabelle Helms, senior director of research and market analytics at AutoTrader.com. The driving factor of that expected increase will be the younger generation, she added, with 36 percent of Millennials already using multiple devices to shop for their next vehicle.
Meanwhile, the survey distilled the process into five key stages: comparing differing models using reviews, looking at photo galleries, pricing, reading car reviews, and finding actual vehicles for sale. Respondents made clear that the role of each device was determined by its functionality. The study also found that respondents preferred to conduct detail-oriented searches and activities on their desktops and laptops. Smartphones were most often used to communicate with dealers, and tablets were favored for browsing.
“There are things that you can’t do on a tablet or smartphone screen that you can do on a PC,” Helms said, noting that shoppers used their home computers to conduct detailed searches and download forms and vehicle information. Those who used smartphones picked them up to make calls to dealers, send e-mails and access information during dealership visits. Those with tablets used them to look at photos, read reviews and look for information on features.
The survey also determined that dealers who offer a poor mobile web experience are doing more damage to their brands than if they had no mobile site at all, with 68 percent of survey respondents indicating that a poor mobile site experience would negatively impact their opinion of the dealer. In contrast, only 19 percent of those polled said that not offering a mobile app would have the same effect.
“First impressions are essential and just having a mobile site isn’t enough,” said Rick Wainschel, vice president of automotive insights at AutoTrader.com. “The findings showed that the experience can make or break perception of a dealer or brand. So if automotive advertisers take away one thing from this study, it should be this: do it right, or don’t do it at all.”
The report concluded by reminding dealers that consumers often enter the car-buying process spontaneously. They might go online in response to a TV commercial, an ad on a website or a car passing them on the street. To respond properly, dealers should create a streamlined experience to help connect shoppers with what they are doing across all their devices.
“Shoppers want access to a ‘hub’ or ‘cloud’ that allows for easy movement across devices,” the report stated. “Dealers and OEMs who can deliver on that desire will likely see an increase in positive opinion of the brand.”