Web Increases Role in Auto Buying

The second annual Consumer Reports Auto Buying Survey found that 64 percent of a nationally representative sample of recent car buyers and leasers said they would use the Web either to make a car purchase or obtain a local dealer referral — up from 41 percent in last year’s survey.

Only 1.5 percent of the respondents had bought their vehicles online, and an additional 3.6 percent had tried to buy online.

Among Web site users surveyed, 70 percent used the Internet to research prices; 60 percent researched car specifications; 43 percent looked up available models; and 42 percent researched options/trim lines.

“Car buying and the Web make a potentially unbeatable combination,” said Paige Amidon, chief marketing officer of new media and Consumer Reports Car Price Services. “Users are finding a lot of very good information with a few clicks of the mouse. We think online car buying will continue to increase. But for now, there are problems. According to our survey, twice as many people tried unsuccessfully to buy online as were able to complete the transaction. That tells us that Web auto merchants haven’t put all the pieces together so consumers can comfortably complete a car purchase online.”

More than one-quarter (27 percent) of respondents said they would consider using the Web to buy or lease a vehicle and have it delivered; 45 percent would use the Internet to get a referral to a dealer. Twenty-nine percent said they would investigate buying and leasing options available through the Internet the next time they purchased a vehicle.

Forty-three percent of respondents consulted manufacturer Web sites before selecting a vehicle, making automaker sites the third most frequently consulted information source (up from seventh place last year) behind prior experience with make and dealers/auto salespeople. Thirty percent visited other online auto sites.

In last year’s survey, close to three out of five respondents said they would not use the Web either to buy or get a dealer referral. This year the figure was down to 46 percent.Eight percent of the respondents found a dealer from recommendations by auto-related Internet sites, and four out of five respondents currently have access to the Web.

There were several reasons respondents would not consider using the web to buy a vehicle and have it delivered:

  • 68 percent prefer to test drive the car. More than 80 percent of the respondents test-drove the vehicle before selecting it.
  • 67 percent prefer to establish a relationship with the dealer that they are going to use for service.
  • 42 percent were concerned about online security and privacy of financial information.
  • 26 percent don’t think that Internet buying is the way to get the best deal.

“It’s a lot for a person to spend thousands of dollars on a car they haven’t seen, test driven or kicked the tires,” Amidon said. “We know from past studies that not all dealers contacted online get back to the customer in a timely fashion — or at all. And at some dealer-referral sites, they don’t have the exact model or they have the model but it’s not equipped with the right specifications.”

Consumer Reports’ second annual survey, completed in January 2001, is based on 1,001 responses.

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