A vast majority of vehicle shoppers still want the dealership involved in the buying process, and it doesn't appear that is changing with younger buyers. That's according to a study by Urban Science in conjunction with Harris Poll that surveyed some 2,000 shoppers and about 200 dealers in February.
Younger buyers still want the dealership
The results included some surprises, especially for dealers, said Randy Berlin, global director of dealer services at Urban Science. Berlin recalled speaking to Automotive News 20 years ago when he was a Lincoln-Mercury Internet programs manager. Back then, vehicle shoppers were getting wise to the Web and spending more time on consumer and independent review sites than on automaker sites.
"It was terrifying," Berlin said. "Everybody thought, the world's over. The Internet's going to take over. … Consumers just didn't trust dealers or the manufacturers at all because the data they were looking for wasn't there."
But according to the new study, that's now flipped, with the value of the dealership paramount for consumers. Berlin, 55, spoke to Staff Reporter David Muller. Here are edited excerpts.
On the study's findings that 81 percent of auto shoppers trust the information they receive from a franchised dealership:
That is a remarkably wonderful statistic that these consumers are providing to show the value of the dealer, because [dealers] have done a wonderful job in changing that reputation from 1999 to now being a trusted source.
On the perception that no one trusts dealers:
That's not the case. I think it's trust and transparency. Because dealers now understand what the real drivers of consumer decision-making is. One of the statistics that came out of this — and I think the primary one — is what influences a consumer's decision to work with a specific dealer: 84 percent said price. And so there's price transparency in the market right now. The customer wants to know what they can buy that [vehicle] for, and dealers have met that need by providing that information online to them.
What the customers value next was the quality of the service that they're getting; 75 percent said that. And then 72 percent: low-pressure sales. And 72 percent also said staff experience. [The salesperson is] becoming a trusted adviser. And that's what the entire industry has hoped for.
On the study's finding that the youngest generation appears to shop the highest number of brick-and-mortar dealerships (3.8 stores on average for Gen Z and young millennials vs. 2.6 for older millennials, 2.4 for Generation X and 2.1 for baby boomers):
That's one of the important findings of this from a dealer standpoint. Right now all the data or so-called studies provided to the industry indicate that customers are visiting only like 1.2 dealers. This research is saying quite the opposite.
And the total misnomer that the young people want to do everything online? This flips it on its head because they're visiting over three dealers. And they're the ones that are looking at multiple brands, but also multiple dealers, to make that decision. Intuitively, I guess that makes sense. It's their first major purchase. They're not loyal to any brand yet. So for them it really is an active shopping process.
On the dealer's role in the car- buying process:
The consumer's perception of the dealer is that 75 percent of them would not want to buy a vehicle without a dealer involved. We talked about the 81 percent that trust the information they receive.
But also — this kind of goes against the belief of the "do everything online, have it just delivered to my house" — 85 percent of the consumers surveyed here said they would not buy a vehicle without seeing it physically first. So again, value of the dealer there.
And then the test drive: 83 percent also said they'd never buy it without driving it first. And then also 89 percent indicated the test drive was the most influential resource in their decision, followed very closely by online reviews.
On how dealers can capitalize on the study's findings:
They take this information, and they do more of it. And they understand and align their processes with what these customers are saying is most valuable. So make sure that they have the things that are the triggers for the consumer and then market themselves that way.
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