Here's an interesting takeaway from a new survey of car-buying habits: More online shoppers are visiting websites for third-party vehicle listings companies than for dealerships.
Traffic to digital vehicle marketplaces among new- and used-car shoppers rose 14 percent year over year, while the number of reported visits to dealership sites declined 10 percent, according to a new buyer insight report from CarGurus, a Cambridge, Mass., online listings firm.
That doesn't mean car buyers aren't interested in visiting a dealership. By the time they make it to a showroom — on average, they'll visit two — many have already done their homework and may be nearly ready to buy, said Madison Gross, CarGurus' director of consumer insights, who released the survey results last week at the company's first automotive conference in Boston.
But, she told Automotive News this week, it indicates that dealers are getting fewer chances to interact with their would-be buyers before they sign on the dotted line.
The survey of more than 3,000 recent new- and used-car buyers was conducted earlier this year and was coupled with insights gleaned from tracking the digital behavior of 387 other vehicle buyers. The results showed that the share of online shoppers who use both mobile and desktop platforms as part of their research has grown.
Gross said that could reflect a customer who wants to zoom in on photos on a larger desktop screen, and also browse listings on a smartphone while waiting in line at lunch.
So what do those findings mean for a dealer looking to convert online browsers into buyers?
Consistency is important, Gross said, from ensuring that the mobile and desktop versions of dealers' websites offer the same functionality and user experience, to the messaging in advertising and in person.
And, she added, it is important for dealers to share their message on more than one platform for the greatest potential impact.
"Make sure that you are where the eyeballs are," she said.
"Most car shoppers are looking in multiple places, so the importance of being consistent from place to place — including online and in your dealership — is critical," Gross said. "Because that's how you can really build trust with these potential customers, even when you haven't had a chance to say a word to them yet."