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AM survey: what buyers expect from car dealers

The motor retail and repair industry is having to change how it operates in the 21st century to stay relevant to changing consumer needs. To discover what the UK’s car owners expect from their dealers, AM conducted an exclusive survey in conjunction with, split between the car purchase journey and the aftersales experience, the results of which we are publishing here:

Car-buying habits

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More than a third (37%) of consumers visited just one dealership when they bought their last car, according to our survey, and a further 23.6% visited two showrooms. Yet 20% still visit four or more dealerships before making their buying decision, suggesting that although online research has become commonplace, there is still a chunk of consumers seeking face-to-face contact and information.

Consumers still expect to take a test drive before buying their chosen car. Of those surveyed, 74% rated the test drive as very important, and only 5% said it was unimportant.

A challenge for motor retailers in this age of FCA regulation and extensive customer paperwork is ensuring that once the customer has come in to buy, the purchase experience is a satisfying one. More than half of our respondents (56%) would expect to be back out of the showroom door within an hour, and 12% said they’d like to have the purchase completed within 30 minutes.

The buyers who use dealer finance choose to do so because of the convenience (52%), the competitive finance rates (42%) and because it is tailored to their needs (32%). However, those that don’t choose dealer finance complain that the rates are too high (79%) and they prefer to negotiate a discount for cash purchase (43%).

Despite more consumers becoming comfortable with major purchases online, such as white goods and holidays, the appetite for buying a car online for home delivery seems mixed. When asked if they would purchase online without a test drive, more than half our respondents answered unlikely or certainly not. However, 10% said they would certainly do so, and another 30% said they would consider it.

Terry Hogan, managing director of, said: “Most consumers think spending no more than an hour in the dealership when finalising the purchase is ample, suggesting that dealers and manufacturers should speed up the process. By becoming more digital, dealers will spend less time on paperwork and ultimately generate more sales. One of the largest automotive retailers in the USA, Sonic Automotive, is targeting 45-minute transactions.”


Aftersales habits

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Some dealers are missing out on customer retention opportunities, as only 61% of our survey respondents were informed by their dealer when their car was due a service or MOT test.

Even the dealers that do issue service reminders have limited success, as only 29% of respondents voluntarily return for servicing to the site that sold them the car, in addition to the 18% that have a service plan. Heartening for dealers, the proportion who shop around is small, with recommendations outweighing search engines and service comparison sites in helping them make their decision.

Two thirds of consumers think it is reasonable for new cars to require a service every 12 months, which should reassure dealers that their aftersales income will be secure for the near future.

Consumers are generally happy with the current opening hours of franchised workshops, but are increasingly expecting the dealership to be able to book them a specific time and date so that the service or MOT can be done while they wait.

This is the preference for 63% of respondents, but almost half also expect the dealership to also offer either a courtesy car or a collection and delivery option. Although the majority would expect these services to be free, about a third would be prepared to pay a premium of £10 to £20 for the added convenience.

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