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Consumers would rather buy a new home online than a car, finds new study

A new car tops the list of things that people would research online but need to see in real life before buying – even over a new home.

New research from Close Brothers Motor Finance’s Britain Under the Bonnet Report found that while the pandemic has accelerated online buying across multiple sectors, the majority of consumers are not ready to buy a new car online without seeing it first.

Only 13% of people that took part in the study said they would feel comfortable buying a car online without seeing it first.

Seán Kemple, managing director of Close Brothers Motor Finance, said: “The pandemic may have accelerated online retail, but for big-ticket purchases, consumers still prefer to try before they buy.

“While buyers might be hesitant to click their way to a new car from home, online research has become an essential aspect of car-buying, and more and more dealers are engaging with consumers through digital platforms before they come and visit a dealership.”

More than two fifths (43%) of drivers would browse online but need to see it before buying, higher than the 41% who feel the same about a new home, the 23% for a new bicycle, and the 19% for a new phone.

Car manufacturers are increasingly enabling the transition to online sales, with new brands like Genesis and Polestar offering an online-only sales model complemented by boutique-style showrooms in shopping centres.

When it comes to car-buying decisions, the Close Brothers study found that younger drivers are more likely to be comfortable with buying a new car completely online, and would do so – at a fifth (18%) of 17-24 year-olds compared to just 7% of over 55s. Men are more comfortable than women purchasing cars online at 16% and 10% respectively.

Owners of alternative fuelled vehicle (AFV) are also far more likely to embrace online buying. 27% of plug-in hybrid drivers and a quarter (26%) of battery electric owners would happily buy a new car without seeing it first, compared to just a tenth (11%) of petrol car owners.

There is also a significant regional division in opinion. Londoners are by far the most comfortable buying a car online without viewing it in real life, at a fifth (23%), compared to just 5% of drivers in the South East and 8% in Wales.

UK dealers are taking stock of the shift in consumer buying patterns and are confident that digital retail is here to stay. Two thirds of dealers (66%) think that more drivers will buy their next car online than at a dealership, while only 16% disagree.

As such, a strong digital forecourt has become a necessity, and dealers have made significant changes since the pandemic. Two fifth (42%) of dealers have increased investment into their website, half (51%) have offered a remote way for customers to sign documents, and 55% have used more digital tools like finance calculators.

Kemple added: “The value of dealer advice and insight is unparalleled, but it’s crucial the industry adapts to the times, and this is more important than ever when demand is changing and evolving so rapidly. As well as having an accessible and up-to-date digital forecourt, dealers have been making the most of software and tools to engage with their customers through every stage of the car-buying process. Meeting the needs of consumers could mean offering flexible opening hours, upping social media presence, or offering ways for buyers to choose finance options at their own pace. With the onset of the hybrid retail environment, digital engagement will have a permanent place in the future of car-buying. Leaning on industry support, expertise, and best practice will help dealers make the most of digital opportunities.”

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