While most new car buyers may not be ready to buy over the Internet, they do plan on using the Web to help them shop for automobiles. Almost all (99 percent) of the visitors to car Web sites polled by Cars.com indicated they were interested in using the Web to shop for their next vehicle.
The telephone survey polled 403 car owners that use car Web sites. It found that 66 percent of consumers visiting car shopping sites bought a car within one year of researching a vehicle over the Internet.
The survey also found that use of the Internet increased purchase satisfaction for nearly half (49 percent) of online shoppers.
“The consumer will always feel the need to interact with the dealer, look at different models, and test drive vehicles,” said Mitch Golub, president and general manager of cars.com. “It is a rare that a customer will purchase a vehicle without ever physically looking at it.”
Only 8 percent of the respondents to the survey said they would consider buying a vehicle site unseen over the Internet.
In 1998, more than 2 million consumers used the Internet to research their new-car purchases. A report from Forrester Research, Inc., predicts that by 2003 nearly 8 million new-car purchases will be influenced by the Internet and nearly half a million new cars will be purchased entirely online.
“The rise of online car buying will radically alter the automobile and retailing landscape,” said James L. McQuivey, a senior analyst at Forrester. “Some of these changes will be wrenching, as manufacturers rethink their role. Other changes will come more naturally, like the increased emphasis on customer service.”
Auto manufacturers and dealers both recognize the Internet as an important channel for attracting customers. Every major manufacturer in the US offers a Web site with new-car information, a dealer locator, and other features like a configurator with prices, dealer quotes, and two-way email. Likewise, the National Automobile Dealers Association reports that 61 percent of dealers now have Web sites, and two-thirds have a staff member dedicated to Internet sales.
“Online shoppers are buying cars, they are satisfied with their purchases, and they will be back online to shop again,” said Golub. “This points to a tremendous opportunity for car dealers to build their businesses by learning how to relate with the online customer, both during and after the initial sale.”
The Internet provides consumers with information such as price, ownership costs, vehicle options, and performance data. This, Golub said, allows customers to feel more knowledgeable about the vehicle and the entire car shopping process.
The cars.com survey found that pricing information and vehicle photos are the most frequently used features of automotive Web sites. People who have visited automotive Web sites find price information the most useful. Sport utility vehicles (SUVs), midsize passenger vehicles, and pickup trucks are the most researched vehicles on the Internet, according to the cars.com survey.