Car Shoppers Increase Use of Internet

A pair of studies from J.D. Power and Associates found that auto buyers are increasingly working the Internet into their search, regardless of searching for new or used cars.

Sixty-two percent of all new vehicle buyers are turning to the Internet for automotive information while shopping for their vehicle, and most of these shoppers go online for automotive information before they begin visiting dealers, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2001 New Autoshopper.com Study.

The study shows 8 percent growth in automotive Internet usage in 2001 — up from 54 percent in 2000.

“The Internet provides automotive shoppers with information of real value that not only continues to attract new users, but also keeps them coming back for more,” said Chris Denove, partner and senior director of automotive retail research at J.D. Power and Associates.

On average, an automotive Internet user visits 6.8 automotive sites before making a purchase. Automotive Internet users indicate a clear preference for independent, third-party Web sites. Manufacturer sites were the preferred choice only for looking up vehicle facts such as options and features information. Independent sites were preferred for anything related to pricing or buying.

The study found that Kelley Blue Book (kbb.com) remains the most visited site for the fourth straight year while Edmonds.com was viewed as the most useful Web site. Ford.com was the most frequently visited manufacturer site.

“The best way for a manufacturer to drive traffic to its Web site is to feature the site as part of its traditional advertising campaign,” Denove said. “Companies such as BMW and Isuzu that instituted offline campaigns to drive customers to their Web site saw the largest increases in automotive Internet usage.”

As far as online sales are concerned, the study found that autobytel.com again sells more vehicles online than any other independent Web site service. GM BuyPower.com is the leading factory-sponsored Web site for generating online new vehicle sales. Industrywide, 6 percent of all new vehicles were sold through an online buying service — up from 4.7 percent in 2000.

The 2001 J.D. Power and Associates Used Autoshopper.com Study found that 43 percent of all used-vehicle buyers use the Internet as part of the vehicle shopping process — a 27 percent increase over 2000.

Just like new vehicle shoppers, most used vehicle buyers who use the Internet go online primarily for research purposes. However, the study shows that used vehicle shoppers seek out different information, rating the importance of finding vehicle reliability information online higher than they do price information. Vehicle history reports rank a close third in importance.

“Quality is king for used-vehicle buyers using the Internet,” said Dennis Galbraith, senior research manger for J.D. Power and Associates. “The two most commonly found pieces of information are used vehicle prices and trade-in values. While this information is driving consumers to the Internet, they are even more pleased with quality information when they find it. Efforts to develop the most credible and recognizable vehicle quality reports will truly benefit consumers.”

The study also found that 22 percent of used vehicle shoppers use the Internet to locate the right vehicle for their needs. AutoTrader.com is the leading site among those locating used vehicles for sale online. Once again, the Kelley Blue Book site dominates used vehicle sites overall, with 52 percent of used vehicle automotive Internet users visiting the site. Among those visiting each site, 49 percent rank Edmunds.com as the most useful automotive Web site. Yahoo is the most used search engine among used vehicle buyers using the Internet.

“Two years ago the number of people who located their vehicle through a published classified advertisement outnumbered Internet classifieds by more than seven-to-one,” Denove said. “The gap narrowed to only two-to-one this year, and it is likely that Internet classifieds will surpass the traditional published classifieds within the next few years.”

The 2001 Used Autoshopper.com Study is based on responses from more than 5,300 used vehicle owners who purchased used 1996 to 2001 model-year vehicles. The New Autoshopper.com Study was based on responses from more than 26,400 consumers who purchased new 2001 and 2002 model year vehicles.

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