The number of car buyers visiting dealerships that are less than five miles from their home has risen by 65% since the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic lockdown started, according to JudgeService.
Visits to dealerships between five miles and 50 miles away have been squeezed by the desire to buy local or buy online.
Shorter journeys (6-15 miles) to car dealerships have dropped by 39%, medium journeys (16-30 miles) by 56% and long (31-49 miles) by 14%, it found.
Neil Addley (pictured), managing director of JudgeService, said: “These figures suggest that people are more comfortable in their own local bubble and buying from businesses they are familiar with, unless they are looking to buy a more upmarket car online. In addition, the increased use of car websites is reflected in the rise of long-distance sales.
“In the short term, dealerships might therefore wish to consider increasing their local marketing activity for volume brands, including doubling down on social media activity.
“A focus on service to sales offers might be worth looking at, as well as increased PPC bids and wider geotargeting which could capture the market for more prestigious vehicles.”
The Harrogate-based firm says its research has shown that customers are even more sensitive to risk and wary of interaction than usual, meaning accurate valuations and stock availability are crucial if dealerships are to keep up a steady turnover of vehicles.
"When it comes to part-exchange, it's more vital than ever that customers feel they're getting the right price from the outset. They don't want to bring haggling into a process that already feels onerous to them. In many cases, it's enough to push them elsewhere or even stop a sale completely," Addley added.
Cox Automotive also confirmed it has seen an increase in part exchange price sensitivity among consumers.
Philip Nothard, customer insight and strategy director at Cox Automotive, said: “Accuracy and transparency of appraisals both online and in the physical environment is more important than ever in the current market.
"Consumers want a simple, seamless and pleasant experience, without the need for further ‘haggling’ once the price is confirmed, particularly online. Consumers’ vehicles are an increasingly crucial part of the retailer’s stock mix, as supply and demand remain uncertain.”
To help boost the industry, JudgeService has made its part-exchange valuation and car product surveys available free of charge. It has also developed software to enable the surveys to be turned around even more swiftly, supporting dealerships to be more responsive.