A quarter of UK car buyers prefer to contact dealers via email, but over half have complained of a poor response rate, according to CarGurus.
The online car retail platform has warned that retailers could be missing out on car sales by failing to reply to buyer email queries.
Potential buyers said email responses weren’t quick enough and that even when they did get a reply it was often from someone who couldn’t help.
Customers are also left annoyed by a stream of spam messages filling up the inbox after contacting a dealership.
CarGurus’ vice president of European car sales, Wendy Harris, said: “It’s obvious really, first impressions count.
“In an age of instant gratification and immediacy, dealers need to make sure they have the processes and people in place to respond in a timely and accurate fashion.”
While customers still favour face-to-face conversations in the first instance, dealers need to be increasingly aware of turning off car shoppers with poor email and phone communications.
And the telephone shoiuld not be abandoned as a marketing tool for car dealers, CarGurus said. The study found it is still used by 28% as a first port of call with just over a third who plan to visit the forecourt not making any contact remotely beforehand.
Making a strong digital first impression is another crucial element at the beginning of the car buying process.
Almost a quarter of shoppers will click on maps to locate their nearest dealer in order to plan their first visit, with younger buyers over two times more likely to look for directions than their older counterparts.
Meanwhile, nearly a third of buyers peruse the reviews of a dealership before making a formal enquiry.
“We’re seeing consumers on our site looking to connect with the dealer because they are confident that the deal they have found is fair, the dealer is reputable and trusted and they are simply looking to complete the purchase,” said Wendy.
“As a result, regardless of how they’ve chosen to engage for the first time, the dealer needs to be structured to respond accordingly.
"Ironically, they’ve done the hard part in intelligently pricing the vehicle, but too often let themselves down at the first point of contact.”