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The new car buying journey

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UPDATE: We’re very proud to have had this article featured in carwow Magazine. Looking at how the car buying process has evolved since the introduction of digital buying platforms, such as carwow, we investigate the effect this has on consumer trust and what impact this might have on the future of the automotive sector.

Recently, we’ve noticed a real shift in this area of automotive, with an increasing number of buyers taking the online first, and last, approach.

The new car buyer

It got us thinking. Is this the future of car buying? Will marketers have to start treating the car buying process like the phone contract purchase, where specs and price are more important than store visits and actually seeing the product? This train of thought sparked a lot of conversation around the office, with the car fanatics adamant that no one would dream of making such an important purchase as a car without test driving it. While others whispered under their breath that, actually, they would. A recent study supported the view of the fanatics, telling us that only 10% of people buy without a test drive but this is a figure that is moving constantly. So, in an attempt to settle the debate, we looked at it from both sides and have tried to predict what we think is the future of the car buying journey.

The car fanatic

We found that the car buying journey for a car fanatic is usually long, with many touchpoints and influences. The research process is all online, with all devices, and there is little or no dealer contact. The decision is firstly brand and then price driven and, ultimately, an emotional purchase.

New Audi

Car fanatics. We have many of them here at JJ, so it wasn’t too difficult to find one who had recently come to the end of their, very long, car buying journey. Self-confessed ‘car nut’ Fergus, our Group Account Director, recently updated his company car after a research process of around four months. A bit different to the national average of eight weeks. So we asked him how he went about the process. Fergus is one of probably hundreds of thousands of user choosers who is provided with an allowance with which they can go out and choose whichever car they want within that set allowance. His ‘car nut’ status also means that he’s a bit of a car brand snob, so upon receiving his monthly allowance figure he started looking at which of the big brands would best suit his lifestyle. As a father of two, the coupe was out of the question, but the estate wasn’t needed either, so he opted for a saloon. The process started in July 2015 for a delivery deadline of February this year. He started then looking at what was available within his budget and researched using magazines and websites as his sources. Looking at what cars were soon to be launched or recently released and reading articles on What Car?, Autocar, Top Gear and the like as well as talking to mates down the pub. Fergus’ car buying journey is what we would typically describe as the traditional route, one which car enthusiasts will probably still take for some time despite new technologies emerging and leasing websites becoming far slicker. He kept looking at what was out there on the road and then going home to Google what he liked the look of, describing himself as a ‘sponge’ for information. It then came down to reading reviews and then making decisions based on what he could afford. After looking at manufacturer sites, where you anticipate them advertising the most expensive price, he then turned to brokers and leasing companies, adapting his search terms to include ‘contract hire’ and similar terms. Upon narrowing his choice down to a final five, the journey then became all about the price. He wanted a brand that he could aspire to be associated with, in a price bracket that would keep our FD happy. In looking at the best possible combination of options and extras for the money at 11pm on his iPad, then the work desktop during his lunch break and mobile while waiting for trains, he narrowed his choices down to a final three. He then entered a period of self-persuasion, which was informed by reviews. Many, many reviews. It was the downsides to the vehicles that finally made him side with Audi. The reviews on Autocar, Top Gear and Auto Trader all described the cars as brilliant, it was the ‘brilliant, but’ that led to his final choice. Once he had his decision he rang the dealers, not wanting any contact with dealers or lease providers before that stage as he wanted the decision to be his, without being sold to. This is something we often see in the market but, with the process developing into a less personal product decision, we are starting to see a time where price and spec become the primary variables that inform a buyer’s choice. What is interesting is that it wasn’t until this stage that Fergus went out for a test drive. There was enough information available online for him to make a semi-final decision. Would virtual and livestreamed test-drives solve this element as well? It’s something we’re monitoring very closely. After confirming his decision with the test drive he then sought the best price available, which involved going back to Google. He ended up at a broker site that offered all the relevant information in one place at a competitive price. He then left that site and went to the local Audi dealership and got them to match that competitive price. This prompted the question – why go through a dealer if you found the best price online? He answered with the gut feeling that he would get a better experience ordering through a local dealer. The car buying process is still a very personal and emotional one, which the buyer wants to be special. So are we at the stage where the lease car can be compared to the mobile phone contract? Probably not yet if we were to only take into account the car fanatic’s view, but what about the ‘not-so car fanatic’?

The not-so car fanatic

For the non-car fanatic we found that the journey was far less emotional and all about the service and price. They want the process to be as stress-free as possible and are less concerned about test driving and the finer details of the car itself.

New Volvo

At the other end of the spectrum, we asked our Creative Director Dave about the process he undertook recently when buying a car.

Car buying. It’s like when you decide to get married. You have to be in the right frame of mind.
Dave Jones

Dave was getting to the end of the life of his last car when he decided to start looking into the process. He found that rather than answers, he just had a whole lot of questions. It’s not as simple as choosing what car you want anymore. There’s the car, the cost, the finance options and so much more. While Dave was debating all of this a TV ad for carwow came on the box. It made it all appear simple. The process was online and it was instant. They help you choose spec and the price there and then and then – the appealing bit – the dealers fight over you. Dave hates haggling, as do 56% of recent car buyers in Britain who paid the asking price or more (including add-ons) according to a recent Auto Trader Market Report. So the appeal of letting dealers fight over him with their best offer made carwow a no-brainer. What is interesting is that places like carwow are changing the dynamic of this relationship which may, in the process, change our view of dealers. Not only are you saving, but they’re also offering all sorts of incentives, something you might not experience in a dealership. From hotels to free delivery, there were plenty of tempting offers but Dave went with his gut-reaction and chose a dealer based on their dissimilarity to that of his past bad experiences. You can then talk to the dealer about options outside of the carwow format, such as the possibility of a four year lease instead of three, and changing your mind about add-ons and extras is a s simple as an email. At the end of the process the dealer said, “Shame we couldn’t have made this sale without carwow” to which Dave responded “Without carwow, you wouldn’t have had this sale because you wouldn’t have found me”. carwow then look to better inform their process with encouragement to post reviews of your chosen dealer on social media to help others make their decision, making everything seem much more transparent.

It also offers many other options that benefit both dealer and customer with upselling made much simpler. Instead of the hard sell, the customer can easily see online, without the pressure, how much extras will cost, leading to Dave now having, as he put it, “a much nicer ‘thing’”. Because that what cars are to some customers. It’s a far less emotional process, they just want a thing that gets them from A to B, that’s comfortable and at a fair price. Something carwow appears to have tapped into, and got right.

The conclusion

So what can we conclude from all this? Perhaps that the car fanatic and not-so car fanatic are not too dissimilar. Both focus on two things – the price and, in the end, the service. A car is a big commitment and, as such, the buyer wants to make sure they are getting the best deal out there whilst not having a horrible experience in the process. So when it comes to making sure our clients give their customers the best experience, therefore giving them the best chance of nurturing leads, it comes down to making the choice easy, enjoyable and, most importantly, transparent. The car buying journey will undoubtedly evolve at an increasingly fast rate over the next few years with the introduction of VR and  live streaming, as well as a social move towards a willingness to make such large purchases online, but the principles are still the same. Make it easy. Make it enjoyable.