A large portion of car buyers would turn to third-party lead generators during their next vehicle purchase, but they aren't using the online tools because they think they have to pay for them.
That's according to a March online survey commissioned by PenFed Credit Union, the second-largest federal credit union in the country.
Third-party sites should do a better job of assuring prospective customers that their service is free. Dealers who pay to display their inventory on third-party sites lose out when customers opt out, and customers limit their pool of information when available shopping tools aren't utilized.
The survey, which was conducted by Morning Consult, found that 41 percent of the 2,201 adults surveyed would consider a third-party online service for car shopping, but they were deterred by the perception that they'd have to pay for it.
Customers also said that they opted out of such car-shopping services because they would prefer to conduct research on their own.
"A lot of folks think there's an added expense in going to a car-buying service, to a fee they would pay," Ivan McBride, vice president of auto lending product sales at PenFed Credit Union, told Automotive News. "That expense is typically passed from the dealer to one of these services. That fee is not passed on to the consumer."
For companies such as PenFed, which partners with vehicle-shopping site TrueCar for its own online services, this perception is a problem. Without properly disclosing to customers that their services are free, lead generators are unwittingly limiting access to those offers.
Likewise, customers may be put off by other research tools if they consider them costly. Uneducated customers are at a disadvantage in the dealership space. Customers who do their research "have more leverage against the dealership to determine a fair price," McBride said.
Additionally, customers deterred from educating themselves online on pricing details and reliability reviews take longer to make decisions in the dealership, adding time to what is already considered a laborious process.
Consumers should be aware of the free resources they can access while shopping for a vehicle. If third-party shopping and financing sites don't make their free-of-charge status clear, they aren't doing what most of them have set out to do: educate customers and drive vehicle sales.