Walk-in enquiries at dealerships were down 10% as manufacturers recorded bumper sales growth in March, according to Dealerweb research.
The showroom management system specialist carried out analysis across 12 car brands and found that the month’s 5.3% rise is new car registrations – the highest and the UK’s biggest ever month for new car registration volumes since the bi-annual plate change began in 1999 – was accompanied by a slump in forecourt visits.
While online enquiries grew by 16%, however, the number of test drives carried out during March also fell by 3%, Dealerweb’s figures suggest.
When looking back over the whole of the first quarter, the fall in test drives is more pronounced, dropping 9% year-on-year during the first three months of 2016.
James Hill, sales operations director at Dealerweb, said: “Our data highlights how growing numbers of consumers are opting for virtual over real-world interaction with retailers to initiate the buying process.
“With ever greater volumes of owner reviews and media road-test write-ups readily accessible online, some buyers feel more confident about making a purchase without carrying out a test drive.”
Dealerweb examined new vehicle sales enquiries and sales conversion figures across 12 leading volume and prestige car manufacturer brands.
The data underpinning the Dealerweb research comes from those dealers using Dealerweb’s showroom management software, which includes the integration of online enquiries.
Given the increase in online traffic as a proportion of all enquiries – a trend predicted to accelerate further – it’s increasingly important that dealers have a robust process for responding to and managing web-based leads, argued Hill.
He said: “Automatic population of web-leads into a showroom management system is key in ensuring that the customer is dealt with effectively. Some dealers are adapting better than others.
“We’re seeing more dealers adopt the model of employing online sales specialists, whose sole purpose is to respond to the online customer as quickly as possible, with a view to securing a showroom appointment.”