The Internet has put car shoppers in the driver's seat, allowing them to research models, comparison shop, and obtain pricing information. As independent auto sites and vehicle manufacturer sites race to attract the most visitors, car shoppers agree that the Internet is an integral part of the buying process.
A 2004 study from J.D. Power and Associates of nearly 29,000 new car-focused consumers found that while most (58 percent) vehicle buyers start with an independent auto site, manufacturers' Web sites are gaining popularity. Auto shoppers who visit manufacturers' sites first increased from 36 percent in 2003 to 40 percent in 2004.
Satisfaction among car shoppers who frequent independent sites has dropped, while manufacturers' sites have measured improvement. More than half (59 percent) of survey participants said they find independent sites most useful, and 39 percent said the same about the manufacturers' sites.
Manufacturers' sites gained the 3 percentage points the independent sites dropped since 2003.
According to comScore, traffic to manufacturers' Web sites, particularly Pontiac.com, got a boost when Oprah Winfrey gave away 276 Pontiac G6 automobiles to audience members on Sept. 13, 2004.
On the day of the giveaway, Pontiac.com saw a 322 percent increase in traffic from the previous week to 85,000 visitors. The following day pushed traffic figures even higher to 141,000 unique visitors – 636 percent higher than the previous week.
Hitwise also measured a spike to Pontiac.com for the week ending Sept. 18, as the site rose from number 15 in market share to number 7, and captured 3.4 percent of manufacturer traffic.
Whether prospective vehicle buyers shop the independent sites or the manufacturer sites, the Internet's influence is clear.
J.D. Power and Associates found that roughly half of the survey respondents said their make/model decision and the price paid/offered were impacted by automotive information found on the Internet, up from about 40 percent in 2002. Also, 22 percent of new vehicle buyers also say the Internet impacted their choice of dealer -- up from 14 percent in 2002.
Furthermore, a Consumer Reports study of nearly 14,000 participants found that 80 percent researched prices before buying, and the largest portion (71 percent) of that group found the information on the Web. New car dealerships trailed as a source of pricing information at 58 percent, followed by books, magazines, and newspapers with 16 percent of shoppers.
The used car market is also benefiting from the Internet's influence. More than one million used cars are listed for sale on AutoTrader, according to measurements from Corzen, followed by Cars.com with 481,000, and Yahoo Autos with 216,000. Consumer Reports found that 77 percent of pre-owned vehicle shoppers research prices, and 77 percent go online to do so.
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