How Car Buyers Research Cars Online

It’s no secret that car shoppers are spending more of their car buying process online, but why has this become the norm? What specifically are car shoppers expecting during the digital car buying process? More importantly, how can your dealership use this knowledge to provide the best online shopping experience and win more business? To answer these questions and more, we've put together this quick guide to how car buyers research cars online.

Why car shoppers defer to online shopping

According to Google’s study on the digital car buying process, before visiting a dealership, 92% of car buyers do some online research. Whether it’s for a new or used vehicle, the research process takes around 14 hours before a shopper is ready to buy (CoxAutomotive). What motivates car shoppers to take to the internet? Here are several reasons why car shoppers spend so much time online before they consider visiting a dealership.


To Reduce Time At The Dealership

The modern car buyer dreads going to the dealership. According to Adtaxi’s 2018 Auto Shopping in America report, 45% of respondents didn’t want any contact with a dealership before visiting in person. When they are finally ready to head to a dealership, they only visit about 2.4 dealerships before purchasing a vehicle. And who can blame them for wanting to reduce their time at the dealership when only 41% of car shoppers are satisfied with how long the process takes? Paperwork, contracts, and negotiations have proven to be the most frustrating part of the purchasing process for most car buyers (CoxAutomotive).



To reduce the time spent at dealerships and become more informed buyers, car shoppers favor independent online research because of the wealth of information available. The modern car shopper can analyze their way to the best car without depending on the dealer to impact their decision. But what information are they searching for?

Google found that car shoppers surf the web to find vehicles that fit their lifestyle, price range, and desired features, as well as reviews and comparisons. Car shoppers rely on an array of content to conduct their research, with video being the most popular.

Car shoppers trust video content so much that they’d purchase a car without taking it for a test drive. 64% of shoppers who watch online videos to inform their purchase say 360° videos would convince them to buy a car without a test drive. In the past two years, the watch time of “test drive” videos on YouTube has grown by more than 65% (Think With Google).



Finally, convenience is a significant reason why car shoppers research cars online. With so many sources available across a wide variety of mediums, researching your next vehicle has never been easier.

Car buyers carry out the research process across multiple devices. On average, 1.69 devices were used during the online research process (DigitalDealer), with 52% of car buyers using multiple devices to shop.


How Dealers Can Provide The Best Online Shopping Experience

Now that we know why car shoppers are online, we need to apply that information to our dealerships. Here are a few pointers to help you get started.


Distribution to third party sites

According to CoxAutomotive, 80% of car shoppers visit third-party sites during the car research and buying process, making them a crucial part of the digital buyer's journey. If you want your inventory to get in front of the right customers, you need the best tools for the job.  

For example, Dealers Specialties’ VinMotion® inventory software provides merchandising tools such as automated comments, real-time manufacturer rebates plus incentives, photos, and videos. These tools help maximize your dealership's distribution and engagement, to drive sales volume. Don’t lose track of your vehicle content online. VinMotion® monitors how potential buyers engage with your site and uses buying signals to inform your dealership’s next steps.

In addition, C.A.R.Score vehicle condition reports put car shoppers in the driver’s seat right from whichever device they’re on. Dealer Specialties lot representatives personally inspect each requested vehicle for over 40 checkpoints, curating some of the most thorough and transparent consumer vehicle reports available.


Improving your VDPs

Dealer websites also play a crucial role in the online research process, as 33% of shoppers visit dealer VDPs, especially towards the end of the buyer journey. 42% of shoppers list the Vehicle Description Page as the most helpful part of a dealership’s website. Therefore, your VDPs must be as transparent as possible, featuring the best in photos and interactive videos, as well as condition reporting.

With C.A.R.Score, your dealership can deliver a clear picture to potential buyers through interactive hotspots and vehicle inspection details. By partnering with CARFAX™ and AutoCheck®, C.A.R.Score reports work in tandem with vehicle history reports, providing the most value and details for car shoppers, cultivating buyer confidence.


Make more retailing activities available online

When key retail activities such as the trade-in offers, negotiations, paperwork, and aftermarket sales are handled online, the time spent at the dealership drops significantly (CoxAutomotive). When given the opportunity, car buyers are happy to perform these actions online, ahead of time if it means reducing the time spent at the dealership.

To improve the buying experience, dealers should look to shorten the deal-making process. By making more steps of the sale available online, dealers can reduce the amount of time spent at the dealership and improve overall customer satisfaction.


Drive Leads — Move Inventory

Car shoppers spend more time online to help them make more informed purchasing decisions. With Dealer Specialties’ C.A.R.Score, you can provide your target audience with the transparency they need to confidently choose your dealership over the competition. If you want to learn more about C.A.R.Score, or any other Dealer Specialties merchandising opportunities, get in touch with a team member here.

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