Social media fall flat for car shopping, research finds

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The body of evidence continues to grow that social media are ineffective for selling vehicles.

The latest is AutoTrader.com's 2014 Automotive Buyer Influence Study released last week, which finds that just 1 percent of car buyers use social sites for car shopping.

Even millennials, young people between ages 18 and 34, barely use sites such as Facebook and Twitter for car shopping, said Isabelle Helms, vice president of research and market intelligence for AutoTrader.com.

Just 5 percent of millennials surveyed said they used social media to shop for vehicles.

"Millennials are apathetic about whether auto Web sites or brands have a social presence," Helms said. She added that 78 percent of millennials in the study said their attitude toward a car brand would not change if the brand had a social networking presence.

Helms said social media are best used by dealers to promote events and charitable activities. Facebook and Twitter also can help retain customers through ads and content offering coupons for service and fun stories aimed at elevating the dealer's profile in the community, she said.

AutoTrader.com's study was conducted by IHS Automotive between December and February. A total of 1,900 people who bought cars within the past year were surveyed, including just fewer than 300 millennials.

The results mirrored findings more than a year ago from Dataium, a research and consulting company for auto retailers. After tracking millions of visits to dealer Web sites for more than six months, Dataium found that less than 1 percent of those people linked to the dealer Web site from a social media site, said Will Perry, Dataium director of business intelligence.

"People go to social sites for fun and to relax," Perry said. "If they want to buy something, they go to Amazon."

He said automakers use social media appropriately with stories that build brand and demonstrate community involvement without a hard sell.

Although they are bypassing social media, millennials are making the Internet and mobile devices mainstays of car shopping.

Ninety-five percent of millennials shop for autos online. Of the average 17.6 hours they take to research and buy a car, 82 percent is spent online. By comparison, all 1,900 respondents took 15.5 hours on average to research and buy a car, with 75 percent of the time online.

Mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, also are crucial to a millennial's car shopping. Fifty-one percent of millennials used a smartphone to shop for a vehicle, the study notes, vs. 34 percent a year ago.

By 2020, Helms predicts, 80 percent of car shoppers will use multiple devices for shopping, including smartphone, tablet and desktop, vs. 32 percent today.

You can reach David Barkholz at dbarkholz@crain.com. -- Follow David on Twitter and


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