Internet-led enquiries to UK dealerships saw a 61% year-on-year uplift during Q3 od 2016, according to DMS provider Dealerweb.
It said that research of its dealer partners had identified substantial growth in online sales enquiries for new and used vehicles had fuelled a 21% overall increase, year-on-year.
Data from volume- and premium-brand dealers across the UK saw leads from online sources increase by 62%.
While the actual quantity of leads from physical customer visits remained higher than for online enquiries, the rate of increase from walk-ins was far more modest, at just 0.6%.
Combining online and walk-in leads with those from other sources – including inbound telephone enquiries – the overall uplift in enquiries in Q3 was 21%, year-on-year.
James Hill, sales operations director at Dealerweb, said: “Although the actual volume of customers visiting dealerships remains higher than that of online enquiries, this dramatic growth in the number of web-based customer enquiries represents a marked shift in consumer behaviour.
“Customers have been empowered by the wealth of online information available to them surrounding a potential vehicle purchase. This browsing ‘journey’ leads many motorists to manufacturer and dealer websites, so dealers must be prepared to respond accordingly to any requests for information such as stock and test drive availability.”
Later this year, Dealerweb will pilot a new solution specifically designed to improve dealers’ ability to react quickly and efficiently to online customer enquiries, ahead of a full launch at the start of 2017, it said.
Dealerweb recently surveyed 1,000 UK motorists on their expectations of the car buying process.
The research found that 49% of buyers are more likely to complete a new or used car purchase if they receive a response to an online enquiry within one hour and 25% of these buyers say they expect the dealer to respond in under 30 minutes.
A 34% share of buyers would take their enquiry elsewhere if the dealer didn’t respond in under four hours.