Reporters love data. Numbers offer evidence to back up anecdotal stories and put emerging trends in context, which makes them incredibly useful as we try to make sense of what's happening around us.
Yet data is just a snapshot. The numbers tell a story of what's happening at a particular moment in time. Often, they provide us with potential explanations, rather than conclusions, about the significance of new trends and behaviors.
At the start of this year, I wrote about a new Cox Automotive survey that found U.S. consumers who purchased or leased vehicles in 2020 and 2021 were happier with their overall shopping experience than buyers in 2019, before the pandemic. Consumers were happier with the process last year — even with high prices and a shortage of inventory — than they were pre-pandemic.
A data point from that survey, featured in the Data Dashboard on this page, pulls back a layer of the onion: In general, consumers who completed more than half of a vehicle purchase online were more satisfied with the shopping experience and the time it took than those who did 20 percent or less online.
Cox researchers said at the time that the results signal dealers have changed their processes around shopping and transacting in a way that makes the process more efficient, particularly online.
J.D. Power reported a similar finding last November, noting greater satisfaction among buyers of both premium and mass-market vehicles who wanted to and could transact remotely than among those who visited a dealership. Chris Sutton, J.D. Power vice president of automotive retail, told me the results present an opportunity for dealerships to improve the in-person experience, particularly to save customers time.
"I don't take this that we have to drive everybody remotely, because I think the customer drives a lot of that," Sutton said. "I think it shows the awesome opportunity to make the showroom experience more efficient."