New consumer research from JudgeService shows how 80% are prepared to travel up to 29 miles to visit a dealership, compared to just 19 miles in 2017.
Similarly, 90% of dealer customers used to come from within 33 miles, but now they come from within 50 miles.
The JudgeService Industry Report September 2021 also identifies a correlation between the distance customers are prepared to travel and their use of the internet to search for a car.
Three-quarters (75%) of buyers travelling up to 29 miles used the internet to research where to purchase their car, increasing to 84% of those travelling over 40 miles.
While less than half (44%) of customers travelling up to five miles said they were prompted by an online source.
The research also shows how the proportion of buyers using the internet as part of their car purchase journey was growing steadily before the pandemic, tracking at 56% in January 2020.
The numbers then accelerated during the lockdowns, with the roll-out of online sales platforms from dealers and digital disruptors, peaking at 65% in April 2021, as restrictions were lifted. This subsequently dropped back to 57% in July 2021.
Neil Addley, managing director of JudgeService, said: “We can see that car buying habits are beginning to return to pre-pandemic norms, and this allows dealers to take the upper hand over the likes of online-only retailers like Cazoo and Cinch.
“Most buyers are going to search online for their vehicle of choice first and are then prepared to travel 30 or 40 miles to visit the dealership selling it. In terms of online marketing, this means the doughnut of geo-targeting dealers use needs to be extended to reach them.
“As for targeting local buyers who don’t feel the need to go online, dealers should consider sponsoring local sports teams or events, use supermarket car parks to show off electric options and even leaflet drops still have a role to play.”
10% of UK car buyers plan to embrace a wholly online car retail experience facilitated by click and collect or click and delivery, according to JudgeService survey data.
Addley also highlighted the key face-to-face role franchised dealer staff can now play in helping customers to transition away from internal combustion engine (ICE) cars.
He added: “Dealers have the ability to attract customers to their showrooms, take part in test drives and offer safe personal interactions.
“This is particularly relevant now as consumers grapple with the complicated choice between ICE, hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles: they need the high level of product expertise offered by the best dealers.”