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Madison Gross
Madison Gross of CarGurus.

Bridging the Scattered Car-Buying Journey

The Buyer Insight Report highlights factors contributing to the shopping process becoming more fractured.

Car buying is vastly different today than it was 10 years ago. It’s no longer a linear process, with buyers spending progressively more time in each stage as they move toward the purchase. Today’s scattered journey is full of interruptions.

CarGurus and GfK recently studied the digital purchase paths of over 3,000 car buyers. The resulting Buyer Insight Report highlights many factors contributing to the shopping process becoming more fractured. Among them: 

  • Shoppers entering the car buying market have more information than ever before and they are researching online, by themselves, instead of through dealers.
  • Vehicles are owned for longer periods of time, making each car purchase that much more important to the buyer. 
  • Shoppers use a wide variety of information sources — 13 auto industry websites, on average, in the study — but want their decisions on specific cars and dealerships validated.
  • Mobile devices have become central to the car shopping process and added to its fragmentation. It’s the nature of how we use our mobile phones: waiting in line at the grocery store, riding the train home from work, during lunch. Our time on our phones is full of interrupted starts and stops.

How Can Dealers Adapt?

Despite these reasons behind car shopping becoming increasingly disjointed, there are specific action items you can take to better connect with buyers at each stage of their car ownership journey.

Research and Narrow Stage

As shoppers research a vehicle, they’re bombarded with information from a multitude of sources. Each one provides a different point of view on the same topic, and in turn shoppers are taking the time to connect the dots and make sense of it all. This means that you should communicate your message broadly, and make sure you’re being as consultative as possible in every small interaction.

According to the study, mobile shoppers spend more time researching a vehicle purchase, and they’re also your most informed buyers. To reach as many shoppers as possible, make sure that your website and ads are optimized for mobile.

Across all platforms and channels, your messaging should be transparent and consistent. We know from our own separate CarGurus research that 80% of shoppers won’t buy a car without third-party pricing data and validation. Plus, maintaining this level of transparency will also spread to future buyers via valuable word-of-mouth.

Dealer Selection and Visit Stage

Once a shopper is ready to visit the dealership, it’s important to remember this is about them, and not you — so put the customer in control of the process. Since shoppers prefer a wide variety of contact methods, let them choose how they reach out to you and follow up in the same way. If they call you, call them back. If they email you, respond back with a personal email that directly answers the question they raised.

Make sure you have a cross-channel attribution system in place so that you can track each call, text, or email to a final purchase. CarGurus data shows that shoppers value reliable dealers with the right inventory at fair prices. So price vehicles accordingly, and you’ll draw in visitors.

Decision Stage

When a shopper is deciding on a vehicle, it’s worthwhile to remember that fewer test drives makes every in-person interaction that much more important. So keep the shopping experience simple and free of pressure, and continue to act as your customers’ consultant by answering any questions without overwhelming them.

Since higher dealership ratings lead to more connections, encourage your customers to leave reviews. This also means you must take the time to manage those reviews. Responding to all reviews, even the negative ones, shows that you care about the customer and improving every part of your customer service.

Finally, continue to be just as transparent and consistent with your in-store pricing as you are with your online listings. Customers will notice and appreciate it.

Madison Gross is director of customer insights at CarGurus.

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