Almost twice as many motorists are confident about buying a car unseen today, compared with three years ago.
There has also been a rise of almost one third in those who describe themselves as comfortable to buy a car online.
For franchised dealers the research also highlights a 50% rise in customers travelling outside their local area to buy from a national main dealer.
However, the research also appears to sound the death knell for private car sale classified advertisements, with survey respondents reporting a dramatic fall in purchases from that source
The research, conducted in February 2016 for Buyacar.co.uk, reveals changes in consumer attitudes and behaviour following a major survey of motorists in August 2013.
Since August 2013, when almost 5,000 motorists were first polled on their car buying habits and attitudes, the proportion of those who say they would be happy to buy a new car online, without seeing it first, has risen from 17.5% to 31.3% - an increase of 78.8% in positive responses.
At the same time, the number of people describing themselves as ‘wary’ of buying a car unseen from a reputable online source has fallen from 27.7% to 25.5%.
But the most positive change in attitudes to online car buying was found among those who had previously ruled out buying cars online at all.
In August 2013 more than half of all respondents said they wouldn’t buy cars online but that figure has now reduced to 43% - a 21.1% drop in anti-online purchase sentiment.
Growing consumer comfort is not limited to online new car sales.
Motorists are also happier to buy used cars online than before.
The 2016 survey included questions which were not previously asked, inviting motorists to evaluate their own changes in attitude over time.
This revealed that 39.2% agree with the statement ‘I’m more likely to buy a new car online now than I used to be’ and 21.3% agree with the statement ‘I’m more likely to buy a used car online now than I used to be’.
Good news for franchised dealers
The latest survey reveals the strength of the UK motor retail market in general, with good news also for traditional dealers – and franchise groups in particular –throughout the results.
For example, in August 2013 respondents reported where they had bought their current car and the latest survey indicates that consumers have been looking further afield and increasingly buying from national main dealers since then.
The figure for those who had bought from a main dealer more than 50 miles from their home saw almost half as many again travelling further afield to buy their current car, compared with the car they owned at the point of the 2013 survey.
The biggest change in where people had purchased their current car this time was a 50% slump in those who had bought from private sellers – from 11.6% to 5.8%.
Austin Collins, Buyacar.co.uk managing director, said: “This was not a survey of Buyacar.co.uk customers, so the results are not skewed in favour of our own business or even the online car retail model in general.
“It’s genuine evidence that consumers are increasingly comfortable with the concept of buying cars online and unseen until they take delivery.
“The consumer attitudes and behaviours that this survey reveals are good news for online-only car retailers and traditional dealers alike.
“In the case of buying online, every piece of evidence suggests a reduction in fear and an increase in confidence among consumers when it comes to buying a car they will not see or drive until the moment of taking delivery.
“We were not surprised that this includes used cars because that is where so much of our own growth has been coming from. Nor are we surprised to see the slump in purchases from private classified advertisers, given the competitive nature of today’s market and the value for money on offer from dealers and online motor retailers.
“The most important aspect of this latest consumer intelligence is the positive story it tells for the whole motor retail sector and the opportunities it signals for strong partnerships between online specialists and traditional bricks and mortar dealerships.
“The fact that growing confidence in online-only car purchase is accompanied by an enduring attachment to major dealers signals huge opportunities for digitally savvy motor retailers.
“Ultimately it is the dealers’ cars which are being sold, so the growth of online-only motor retail simply opens up yet another valuable sales channel for what is clearly a burgeoning consumer sector.”