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Car buying process remains challenging, but retailers vital to positive experience

Car buying process remains challenging, but retailers vital to positive experience
Car buying remains challenging, with the majority of consumers forced to complete a chaotic and non-linear process of jobs necessary to be ‘showroom ready’. However, a positive retailer experience can be the biggest accelerator to purchase. That’s the key findings from the latest edition of Auto Trader’s Car Buyers Report, , which found that whilst 52% of car buyers believe the car buying experience hasn’t changed, 14% believe it’s become more difficult. Just 24% feel the process is becoming easier.

Two years after the first Report was published, the 2019 edition revealed that rather than experiencing the traditional linear retail journey, car buyers in fact face circa 30 different ‘jobs to be done’, each framed around their needs, what they can afford, the type of car, and the actual purchase process.

Unlike in other complex purchase processes, where consumers are helped to complete respective jobs more effectively, car buyers don’t feel they receive the same support from the automotive industry. As a result, the jobs are difficult to complete and soon become pain points, leading to 23% of car buyers spending more time on the process, 19% becoming bored, 16% confused, and 15% dreading buying a car. Most worryingly, 42% are less likely to carry on in the process. 

The completion of most of these jobs helped car buyers feel ‘showroom ready’ – sufficiently prepared to visit a dealership with intent to buy. 65% of car buyers say they feel they must do as much research as possible before they visit a dealership. During this process they’re looking for a car that suits their requirements, its ‘real’ price, the finance options, its availability, and a retailer to buy it from that they can trust.

The research found If that information was more readily available from retailers in a transparent and simplistic way, potential customers would arrive at the dealership with a more positive view of the experience and importantly, ready to buy. A great showroom experience to complement the online process would help not only make car buying more efficient, but faster too. In fact, 34% of consumers who bought a new car, and 26% of those who bought used, said that speaking to a helpful retailer was the biggest accelerator to purchase. Being offered a good deal from a retailer was the second biggest influence: 32% for new car buyers, and 28% for used.

For one in five car buyers a great showroom experience means neutral advice and opinions from a retailer who is genuinely interested in their needs. A great dealership experience is more likely to make 77% of consumers buy a car from them and 79% to return.

The other major challenges facing today’s car buyers is a difficulty in finding inspiration (with one in five entering the process with no idea in mind of what car they want); too much choice and options (31% of car buyers said the availability of choice has made the process more difficult); difficulty in making comparisons; a lack of price transparency (80% of car buyers find it difficult to work out total cost of ownership); a challenging online experience; and decision anxiety.

Ian Plummer, Auto Trader’s Commercial Director, explains: “On first look the results of this year’s Car Buyers Report paint a disappointing picture of the UK automotive industry. Consumers are frustrated by a complex process, and as a result slowing up sales at a time when the industry need them most.

“However, with one in three car buyers stating they would have bought their car sooner if they’d had a smoother experience, there are clearly some huge opportunities for retailers and manufacturers. By disrupting the process, either through small but impactful incremental steps, or by taking more profound action, the industry can make the process of buying a car easier and faster for customers, and as a result increase stock turn, making it more profitable.”

The jobs necessary to buy a car, such as determining budget, make, model, finance, insurance etc. can be completed at any point, repeated and frequently started, stopped and put off until another time. Whilst they cannot be avoided, they can be improved by making the process more efficient, and ensuring the right support is easily accessible. The research highlighted that car buyers are looking for the experience to be improved in four key areas: speed, transparency, ease and simplicity.

Steps to improving the car buying experience, include:

Fast response: Whether via email, text or phone calls, retailers should respond quickly to customer enquiries and provide accurate information that will help them in their process. Slow responses add to the frustration and slows the process down even further.

‘Real’ price: Struggling to work out the ‘real’ price is one of car buyers’ biggest frustrations, particularly amongst younger consumers: 80% of 18-24-year olds identified it as a pain point. Brands and retailers should feature the total cost of a car including the RRP and the monthly cost, ensuring the APR and balloon payments are all clear. Where possible include the running costs too as 80% of car buyers find it difficult to work out. 

Avoid catches: Retailers must avoid administrative or ‘process’ fees: 83% of buyers considering a new or used car identified hidden costs or ‘catches’ as a major pain point, perpetuating the reputation of dealers as untrustworthy.

Comparison: Brands should add comparison functionality to their websites, which includes new and used cars together – car buyers do not search in silos and the inability to compare side-by-side is particularly frustrating, especially to young people. 90% of 18-24-year olds saw this is a major pain point.

Stock availability: Often a car buyer will only discover their choice is not available once they’re ready to purchase, potentially wasting weeks of research and job completion: 73% of new car buyers experienced this pain point. Alleviate this frustration by making it easier for them to source online.