The most influential source of information for U.S. car buyers is a salesperson at the dealership.
That salesperson trumps all other influencing factors for car shoppers and buyers, according to an annual study conducted by St. Louis-based marketing research firm Maritz Research.
The Maritz Research New Vehicle Customer Study's results appear contrary to a popular belief that consumers rely heavily on online resources when buying or leasing a new vehicle.
Maritz said 21.89 percent of car shoppers in 2011 said a salesperson had the biggest impact on their purchase or lease. Families and friends were the top influence on 18.66 percent of car buyers last year.
"People buy from people," Chris Travell, vice president and strategic consultant for Maritz Research, said in a statement.
Travell adds that online sources such as social media can "support the selling effort, but I believe it would be a mistake to believe that social media will usurp it."
Facebook and Twitter were not influential at all in helping customers to make vehicle buying decisions last year, Travell added.
The NVCS is the largest automotive study in North America.
In the study, salespeople ranked significantly higher in 2011 than in the past five years, according to Maritz. Recommendations from family, friends and word of mouth also had a higher influence on purchases than in past years, the study said.
"We look to those we trust for their recommendation, especially when the buying decision is perceived as having a potentially high risk, like in buying a new car," Travell said.
Shopping guides such as Consumer Reports magazine remain the third most influential source of information, though their influence has dropped compared to previous years.
Maritz said dealer and manufacturer Web sites, along with third-party Web sites, are also more important now than in 2007, though less than 9 percent of shoppers say the sites had the biggest impact on their purchase decision.
"It's in the best interest of the dealers to make sure their sites are the very best they can be by providing customers with accurate, relevant, and current information about their dealership operations and the vehicles they have for sale," Travell added.
Maritz said the study asked customers what sources of information they found most influential in their buying decisions. A look at how various sources fared in the rankings:
- Salesperson at the dealership
- Family, friends and word-of-mouth
- Consumer and shopping guides
- Dealer and manufacturer websites
- Third-party Web sites
- Automotive magazine reviews
- TV ads
- Dealer or manufacturer brochure
- Dealer or manufacturer-sponsored event
- Newspaper ads
- Auto shows
- Direct mail from dealer and/or manufacturer
- Newspaper reviews
- Online videos
- E-mail from dealer and/or manufacturer
- Magazine advertisement
- Radio ads
- Outdoor ads
- Chat rooms, blogs, online forums