How does online research influence automotive buyers?

Carol Carini

By Carol Carini
7 Feb 2017

4 min read


62% of Internet users conduct product research online. Through their device, they can access almost unlimited information about any product. This is handy for automotive-buyers as they can find their new car without having to leave the comfort of their chair.

However, many still choose to take a trip to the dealership and drive their chosen vehicle around. So how much influence does online research really have on automotive buyers? With a little help from Google’s Drive to Decide report, we’re going to find out.

What’s so good about online research?

86% of automotive buyers research online before they purchase a vehicle from a dealer. In fact, the main entry point for buyers is online as 51% of buyers claim to start their research there instead of at a dealership, talking to friends or looking in magazines.

Researching a car online is easy. Type a simple phrase like “new family car” into a search engine, and you’ll be presented with thousands of options in an instant.

With the rise of smartphones, tablets, light-weight laptops and even smart TVs, all the information you need is just a couple of clicks away. Online research offers a variety of information quickly, easily and without the hassle of driving to a dealership.

Online research is also where automotive-buyers get their first impression of a car. It is at this point that they’ll decide to continue pursuing a particular vehicle, or find a different car to take for a spin.

Instead of asking a dealer who is likely to be biased towards their most lucrative cars, automotive buyers can find honest feedback from people who already own the car, videos of people driving it/using its features, as well as manufacturer’s specifications and information.

Automotive-buyer online research trends

Purchasing a car can be a lengthy process that involves several sources, devices and factors. 26% of buyers said that they invested a lot of time and effort into their research, while 23% explored more information sources compared to previous new car purchases.

As the trend for online research grows, marketers and dealers must be prepared to face better informed customers.

Online research typically begins with a search engine and maybe a video. Many people are influenced by this initial research and will quickly narrow down their choices based on these initial ventures.

Millennials are at the forefront of these changing trends, and are the market that automotive marketers must focus on. At least, until Gen Z reach driving age.

The five stages of car purchasing

When purchasing a car, most automotive buyers will ask themselves five questions;

  • Which car is best?
  • Is it right for me?
  • Can I afford it?
  • Where should I buy it?
  • Am I getting a good deal?

Online research supports automotive buyers throughout the purchasing process.

Google’s Drive to Decide report states that most people conduct online research at the ‘Is it right for me?’ stage of purchasing. Space, design, styling and quality are considered the most important factors at this stage.

At this stage, most automotive buyers will turn to review sites and search for owners of their selected vehicle. Here they’ll gain insight into what the car is like to own and whether it will truly fulfil their needs.

The least amount of research occurs at the ‘am I getting a deal’ stage – with just 61% of buyers deciding to hop online. Presumably, this is because they are usually at the dealership and semi-committed to buying the vehicle while they’re there. Promotions and deals tend to be available at the dealership, so there is little need to conduct online research.

Is online research necessary?

In short, yes. Online research is a valuable tool that informs the consumer and heavily influences their decisions.

39% of automotive shoppers are first time buyers – their needs differ from their seasoned counterparts (usually a reliable, cheap and slightly older car) and they have little-to-no knowledge about buying a car. Online research is vital to them as it enables them to learn about the buying process and find a good deal on a car.

However, 60% of buyers are “somewhat decided” on the car they want before they begin online research and only consider an average of 2.8 makes of car. The online research stage helps either solidify these choices or offers new, perhaps unthought of, alternatives, making it a truly valuable stage in the automotive-buying process.

How can PPC keyword tracking help marketers make the most of the online research stage?

41% of those who started research online did so with an online search query. By investing in the most targeted PPC keywords, you can drive those leads to your website. Tracking your leads to the PPC keyword level creates data that lets you know whether your campaigns are profitable or if they are under-performing. This way, you can avoid wasting money on expensive keywords that don’t work and invest with confidence in those that successfully convert.

50% of automotive buyers researched online to find their dealer, so optimising your marketing campaigns should be your top priority.

To make the most of this data, you need a solution that can track both on and offline campaigns. Infinity provides you with that solution. It assigns each visitor a unique phone number and visitor ID, allowing companies to track that lead even if they turn to offline methods (phone calls, dealership visits) or leave the website – 22% of new car buyers said they moved back and forth between information sources.

54% of buyers would “definitely consider” an online purchase, either now or in the future, so this is a great time to implement sophisticated call tracking software that will keep you ahead of the curve.

Infinity offers a comprehensive overview of all your marketing channels and an opportunity to improve your lead generation/conversion rate – both of which are essential in running a successful automotive business.

Ready to unlock real audience insight at scale?

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