Even though online shopping gives shoppers more information and clout, salespeople still play a key role in closing deals, given the propensity of shoppers to change their minds late in the buying process.
So concludes a study by lead generator Autobytel.
During the first nine months of 2012, 54 percent of shoppers who submitted a new-car purchase request handled by Autobytel ultimately bought a different nameplate than the one requested, CEO Jeff Coats said.
A similar percentage of shoppers submitting used-car purchase requests, known in the industry as a sales lead, changed their minds before buying a vehicle, Autobytel found. The company compared Autobytel leads sold with vehicle registrations recorded by R.L. Polk & Co.
Coats said the study reaffirms the role of store salespeople and good follow-up processes in closing a deal. "You have to give the customer a variety of options," Coats said.
Autobytel sold 4 million leads to dealers and auto companies in 2012. About 70 percent of the leads were generated on its own shopping Web sites, and the rest were purchased from other third-party lead generators.
Shoppers making new-car purchase requests also are nearly as likely to buy a used vehicle as a new one, the study shows. About 42 percent of the shoppers reviewed bought a used vehicle after requesting information online on a new car.
In pursuing new-car leads, dealers should reinforce their brand in all communications because the shopper may switch to a different nameplate before buying, Coats said.
Salespeople also should suggest used vehicles as options, he said.
Autobytel has 3,800 franchises as customers.
Studies by J.D. Power this year and last found that 59 percent of consumers don't decide on a vehicle to buy until the last week of their shopping process, and that new-vehicle shoppers consider 3.3 vehicles on average.