According to the latest edition of the Auto Trader Market Report, consumer sentiment towards digital retailing has been ‘accelerated’ by COVID-19, offering retailers a ‘huge opportunity’ to enhance the car buying experience, and in turn, accelerate sales.

In a nationally representative study of 1,500 car buyers, the number of consumers who’d consider buying a car completely online has increased to 41%, up from 37% in August 2019. But online car buying is still very much nascent for now in the UK, and this level of interest increased to 61% once car buyers had been given a tangible example of how digital retailing could help improve their buying experience.

Many car buyers already engage with certain necessary tasks online, such as checking the various features available (46%), the running costs (45%), and the type of car they need (42%). However, the research highlighted that consumers would be willing to do more of the buying journey online if they knew jobs were available to complete digitally: over a third of those surveyed said they’d like to get a part exchange value (33%); understand the total cost of ownership (36%); negotiate on price (35%); and to organise finance (32%).

Whilst the sentiment for digital retailing is increasing, the report highlights the ‘vital role’ retailers continue to play in the car buying journey, with many consumers still wanting and enjoying the dealership experience, especially the more emotional tasks, such as viewing the car in person (47%); browsing the showroom (41%); collecting the vehicle once purchased (36%); and discussing their individual needs with the retailer (23%).

“Clearly, not all car buyers are looking for the same journey, but rather their own personalised experience which suits their needs”, said Auto Trader.

Commenting on the opportunities for retailers, Nathan Coe, Auto Trader’s Chief Executive Officer, said: “It’s clear there is a meaningful shift in sentiment towards digital retailing. We believe it represents an exciting opportunity for the industry to significantly improve the consumer experience, and in turn accelerate the buying process. If today’s buying cycle could be increased by just 10%, it would lead to circa one million more car sales a year, which would make a significant contribution to the industry’s post COVID recovery. We’re committed to providing the tools and intelligence every one of our retailer partners need to make a successful and profitable transition to digital retailing.

To enable retailers to meet consumers’ growing digital expectations, Auto Trader has launched a series of products designed to make the car buying journey more efficient, hand helping retailers create a blended buying experience. The recently launched Buy Online hub enables car buyers to search for over 350,000 vehicles currently available to buy via Click & Collect, and / or Home Delivery on Auto Trader. In January, Auto Trader is set to roll out its Guaranteed Part Exchange (GPX) tool, offering consumers a guaranteed part-exchange price for their current vehicle, underwritten by Manheim Auction Services.

The Auto Trader Market Report can be read in full, here.