- One in two consumers intend to buy on their first visit to a forecourt, up from a third prior to the pandemic
- More jobs than ever being completed online prior to forecourt visit
- Majority of car buyers want to complete all stages of the purchase journey by the end of their first forecourt visit – enabling more jobs to be done online will make forecourts more efficient
According to the latest consumer research from Auto Trader, the traditional ‘tyre kicker’ may soon be a thing of the past as most of today’s car buyers are not only arriving at forecourts ready to purchase, they’re ready to do so on their first visit. The research, which builds on a previous study conducted in 2019, highlights a dramatic shift in consumer behaviour over the course of the pandemic, and the need for retailers to adapt their online and offline processes to meet the changing requirements of potential customers.
The research, which is based on the feedback of over 1,000 car buyers collected in person from across 50 different forecourts of varying sizes, showed that the proportion of people visiting a dealership for the first time has increased from 53% to 63% since 2019. Critically, more than half (53%) of those surveyed intended to make a purchase on the same day, which has rocketed from a comparatively low third (32%) just three years ago. And for those people that had made contact prior to their arrival, intent to purchase surged to a massive three quarters (76%) of those surveyed. And whilst it fell to 39% for those that hadn’t engaged prior to their visit, it still represents a significant step-up on the 19% stating an intent to purchase three years ago and highlights the level of digital research that car buyers are increasingly doing online before visiting any showrooms and forecourts.
Whilst the proportion of consumers making contact ahead of their visit hasn’t changed significantly since the previous survey (increasing from 36% to 38%), the results reveal a notable shift in exactly how people are choosing to engage with retailers. Indeed, more people than ever are making telephone enquiries, leaping from 57% to 71% (likely motivated by stock availability concerns), whilst the role of marketplaces has increased dramatically, with the proportion of people using one to make contact almost doubling from 34% to 60% in just three years.
Adapting to the ‘readies’ and the ‘potentials’
The research identified a clear distinction between those buyers that have made prior contact, and those that hadn’t. Whether it’s making a reservation, agreeing a part-exchange value, or completing a finance application, those that have engaged ahead of their visit are likely to be much further in their buying journey by the time they arrive, already digitally completing 42% of the jobs necessary for purchase. In contrast, their non-enquiring counterparts will have completed just 19% of the required jobs, intending to do far more of the process in person on the day or post their visit.
Accordingly, the meet and greet process is more important than ever to qualify the car buyer and to change the approach to meet the consumers’ respective needs – a ‘one size fits all’ process is no longer fit for purpose. Consumers that have been in touch, who are much further down the purchase journey, are far more likely to be intending to purchase on the same day (over 7 in 10) and are more likely to have travelled further, can be classified as ‘readies’. They’ll be looking for a smooth online to offline experience that acknowledges the steps they’ve already taken and, critically, a focus on the final stage of the buying journey – the transaction.
In contrast, the consumer who hasn’t been in touch, who is less progressed on their purchase journey, and is perhaps less likely to purchase on the same day, albeit has high intent to purchase, can be classified as a ‘potential’ and will therefore need a different approach to progress to a sale. They’ll require more support during their visit, including more time to browse vehicles (they may not have a specific car in mind), more advice and greater assistance with the different jobs required to make a purchase.
Commenting on the research, Auto Trader’s Chief Operating Officer, Catherine Faiers, said: “In a very short amount of time, we’ve seen a huge increase in intent to purchase from people arriving on forecourts, especially among those that are contacting retailers in advance. Thanks to the increasing preference for car buyers to do most of the necessary car buying “jobs” digitally prior to any retailer visits, more buyers than ever are turning up qualified and well informed to make a purchase. The days of the indecisive tyre kicker are well and truly behind us. The gap is also widening between the needs and the jobs consumers are looking to do upon arrival, which highlights how critical a tailored approach to each customer has become, rather than a standardised one size fits all sales process.
“Crucially, most people are still visiting the forecourt as part of the car buying journey, so there’s a huge opportunity for retailers to deliver a great forecourt experience and to convert even more of those buyers by understanding their needs and tailoring their experience. The best experience for all consumers is one where the forecourt and online experience are connected. That’s why we’re committed to using our marketplace and our data to enable our retailer partners to offer that seamless link, which will help drive efficiencies on the forecourt, and ultimately, drive sales.”