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Internet dominates car buying research, but showrooms are still vital when it comes to purchase

Despite the internet becoming the most common source for researching a car, consumers still rely on car dealers when actually making a purchase, according to a new study.

The second iteration of the Britain Under the Bonnet report produced by Close Brothers Motor Finance shows that over half (57%) of motorists used the internet to help inform their choice of car – a significant increase on last year’s study, of which 40% went online.

This year sees the internet overtaking dealerships for the first time.

However, despite the internet revolutionising the way consumers research vehicle purchases, almost four out of five (79%) consumers bought their last vehicle via a dealership, against 2% who purchased online.

While consumers may have researched their purchase via the internet, the amount who actively visited a dealership to do first-hand research closely followed. Turning to friends and/or family and using auction websites also ranked highly.

UK adults did the following research before purchasing their vehicle:

1.    Searched online - 57%

2.    Visited a dealership - 53%

3.    Discussed with friends and/or family - 34%

4.    Used an independent car website - 32%

5.    Searched on auction websites - 15%

6.    Read through motor magazines - 15%

7.    Read through the motor section of the newspaper - 13%

8.    Searched via social media - 10%

The report also found that all age groups, apart from those aged over 65, favour researching online (46%) as opposed to visiting a dealership (57%). In contrast, 18-21 year olds ranked visiting a dealership much lower as a research method, with 61% choosing the internet vs 33% who turn to dealers.

According to the report, almost half (48%) of motorists purchased their last car from a new car dealership and just under a third (31%) went to a second-hand dealer. Just over one in ten (12%) turned to a private seller and one in twenty-five (4%) bought through family and friends. Just 2% turned to auction houses and the same number (2%) bought via the internet.

Motorists stated that the key reasons behind their positive experience of purchasing through a car dealer was the sense of getting a good deal/price (67%), being given good advice within the available price range (36%), and helping to finalise the decision (35%).

Sean Kemple, Close Brothers Motor Finance director of sales, said: “As technology evolves, the way people research and purchase cars is changing.

“As a result, dealers are undoubtedly facing new challenges. As buyers carry out online research before entering a forecourt, the main challenge is encouraging them to take the next step and walk into a dealership. In order to do this effectively, dealers need to make sure their digital forecourt has as compelling an offering as their physical one.”

Kemple said digital is a way to get more eyes on dealers’ stock and that it was important to note that dealers still play an important part in the research phase to offer support and advice, even if customers are spending more time researching online and less time in the showroom.

He said: “Ensuring dealership staff are best equipped to deliver genuine insight and advice to prospective customers is going to be crucial in the months ahead.”

Dealers can get a copy of the full Britain Under the Bonnet report at closemotorfinance.co.uk/britain-under-the-bonnet.

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