Facts You Should Know About The Car Buying Experience

Remember what buying a car was like even as recently as ten years ago? You’d go visit a handful of dealerships, maybe five or six, chat with sales people, take some test drives, start narrowing down what size, make and eventually what model you wanted, then you’d start the negotiations, have a little back and forth and there you go – you’ve got your new car.

Boy, is it different now.

According to a report from researcher McKinsey & Company, ten years ago, the average car shopper visited five dealerships on average when go through the process of buying a car. Now, that average is around one and a half. But don’t ask me how you visit half a car dealership!

The main difference, according to the study, is the internet. Car shoppers are doing a lot more homework on the internet before they ever step foot into a car dealership. Sure, people have always done some amount of research before car shopping. They would ask friends and family for advice, take a look at cars on the street or in parking lots around town, maybe if they were particularly savvy they would read some reviews in Consumer Reports magazine.

Now, though, there is so much more information available about car buying online, and shoppers are flocking to it.

According to another report from Cars.com and C+R Research, consumers are gathering information through a variety of sources, including independent research sites, search engines, manufacturer websites, car dealership websites, expert review sites, and so on. While most people will gather some degree of information from a lot of these sources, most shoppers end up narrowing down their sources to just one or two main sources, or “go-to” sources.

The result is that a quarter of car shoppers only visit one or two showrooms in their entire car-buying experience. By the time a typical car-buyer walks into a dealership, they already have a ton of facts and information, and have already narrowed down their decision making process pretty far. They probably know which model they want, what options are available, what the experts say about that model, and of course, they’ll have a pretty clear idea of what they expect to pay. A lot of consumers might even know more about the car than the dealer! (Well, depending on where they got their information, they may just think they know more than the dealer.)

Car shoppers use their own legwork to figure out where they best research and information is, their go-to sources. Those sources usually emerge as “go-tos” because shoppers feel like they are not only helpful, but trustworthy. And shoppers don’t stop at using these online sources just to find out information about the car, they’ll use these same sources to choose which car dealership they want to buy from! And when they walk into a dealership, chances are they have that go-to source on-hand on their phones, feeding them info through the whole on-site experience.

This epic online journey that the average car shopper takes is further illustrated by a recent study that Google conducted. Google worked with a research firm and tracked the online car-buying journey of a single shopper, in intense and fascinating detail.

What they found was that this single shopper had over 900 digital interactions leading up to signing the lease on her new car. Each of those digital interactions are ‘micro-moments’ where the shopper turns to their computer or phone to ask a question or address a need. The micro-moments could be lumped into five different key auto shopping moment categories:

-       Which-car-is-best moments

-       Is-it-right-for-me moments

-       Can-I-afford-it moments

-       Where-should-I-buy-it moments

-       Am-I-getting-a-deal moments

All of these moments were made of Google searches, watching YouTube videos, viewing pictures (presumably of cars), and interacting with dealers and manufacturers.

The shopper whose searches they followed, a woman named, “Stacy,” was Googling on her phone through every step of the process, from the beginning of her journey when she was just trying to figure out which car would best suit her needs, to the very end when she signed the lease on her new SUV. She was even Googling while standing there in the dealership! (This is apparently a fairly common occurrence – I guess salespeople must just be getting used to customers looking at their phones all the time!)

Does anybody have to do all of this research before going into a car dealership? No. Are you still free to visit six or seven dealerships and narrow things down the old-fashioned way? Of course you are. But, there’s a reason why the car buying journey for the average shopper has changed with the availability of all of this information, accessible from anywhere you go. While it can seem like a head-spinning amount of work to do, ultimately, people do the research because it saves them time in their interactions with however many dealers they go to, it potentially saves them money by getting them a better deal, and it makes them feel more comfortable and prepared to make what is, for most people, one of the biggest purchases that anybody makes as a shopper.

Now all we need is a teacher to give us good grades for doing all that homework!