Consumers are still browsing third-party listings websites the most when shopping for vehicles.
But the fastest-growing source for such Web research are the sites of online used-vehicle retailers, such as Carvana and Vroom, according to new consumer research by Cox Automotive.
In the study, 25 percent of surveyed consumers who bought or leased vehicles from September 2020 through August 2021 reported visiting the websites of the new-form online retailers, as Cox refers to them, while vehicle shopping. That's up from 17 percent of consumers surveyed in 2020 and just 3 percent of those surveyed in 2017.
Those visits to online retailers are still far outnumbered by visits to third-party websites, such as Autotrader or CarGurus, and visits to dealership websites, according to the survey. Visits to such third-party listings sites dipped to 75 percent last year from 79 percent in 2020, and dealership websites saw an uptick from 52 percent in 2020 to 56 percent in 2021.
The popularity of online retailers has grown as consumers become more accustomed to digital shopping, Vanessa Ton, Cox's senior industry intelligence manager, told me.
"They make it so easy and efficient that people tend to gravitate towards that. And also, they have a lot of repeat customers that keep buying from them," Ton said. "And I think with the dealers having limited inventory that these online retailers were just another alternative, or another channel, for people to find what they needed."
Dealerships' websites are still fairly top of mind for consumers, picking up a bigger share of customers' visits as third-party sites lagged amid the inventory constraints, the survey findings show. To stay competitive, Ton said, dealerships need to offer online buying and home delivery options on their websites similar to digital used-vehicle retailers.
Dealerships are offering more of that than they once did, she added.
"As a dealership, you kind of have that advantage in the sense that, 'Hey, you can come in person, or we can do everything online with you,' " she said. "It gives people options to transact the way that they want to transact."