Consumer satisfaction in the car buying journey declined in 2022, but allowing buyers to access online purchase tools, including F&I options, can boost satisfaction.
That’s the finding of the 2022 Cox Automotive Car Buying Journey Study. Data shows 61% of all vehicle buyers were “highly satisfied” with the car buying journey, a 5 percentage point decrease from the previous year. It was the second consecutive year satisfaction has dropped.
Online tools that allow shoppers to skip a dealership visit – whether through pre-ordering, financing, or other digital offerings – seems key to boosting their satisfaction. One in five new vehicle sales were pre-ordered in 2022, mostly due to lack of inventory, the study found. Of those who pre-ordered, 79% were generally more satisfied compared to those buying off the lot, says the Cox study. Time spent shopping for a vehicle increased in 2022 to more than one hour compared to 2021 and time at the dealership increased by approximately 20 minutes, the Cox study found.
Here’s how the numbers stacked up – New vehicle buyers’ satisfaction levels declined only modestly to 70% compared to 71% the previous year. Used car buyers’ satisfaction levels, however, dropped 7 percentage points to 58%.
“With used car prices being so high and new car inventory being so low over the last few years the dissatisfaction has gone up,” Jessica Stafford, senior vice president of consumer solutions at Cox Auto, tells Wards.
Expectation setting likely had much to do with the satisfaction with pre-ordering, she says. Dealers did a good job of letting people know where their vehicle was in the ordering process, she says.
Even as inventory improves, pre-ordering is likely to remain popular, says Stafford. “We expect to continue to see (pre-ordering) be a big part of sales going forward,” she says.
Buyers purchased more F&I products in 2022, the Cox study found. In 2022, 67% of buyers paid for an F&I product, up from 59% in the previous year. That includes extended warranties, GAP insurance, and wheel and tire protection plans.
The interest rate was the top reason for choosing a specific lender in 2022, but trust and familiarity with a lender rose in importance, especially among Gen Z buyers and those who bought mainly online, the Cox study found.
Transparency and clarity were crucial and seeing all the details online was a big part of that. “We teased the trust as coming from reputable rates that stuck,” says Stafford.
Buyers want to do more online when securing financing, the study found, but only 36% calculated monthly payments. Only 30% applied for credit online and a slim 15% signed paperwork online. “This was seen by the Cox Automotive analysts as an opportunity for dealers and consumers, as more online F&I activity improves satisfaction and streamlines the experience,” said Cox in a press release.
The key insight dealers should draw from the 2022 study, says Stafford, is “now is the time to lean into the digital buying experience. Drawing back drives the dissatisfaction we saw in 2022.”
Standard & Poor's Global Mobility arrived at a similar conclusion regarding the desire for a digital buying experience based on the findings of its 2022 Vehicle Buyer Journey. That survey found that two-thirds of respondents expect to complete some part of the vehicle purchase online, and 60% expect their next vehicle purchase to be completed entirely online.
The top areas shoppers want to conduct digitally are negotiating the vehicle price, F&I paperwork, arranging test drives and negotiating trade-ins, says S&P.
A majority of buyers – 82% – still want to test drive a representative model of the vehicle they are considering purchasing, the S&P study found, but that didn’t necessarily mean going into the dealership. Prior to the pandemic, 84% wanted to conduct a test drive.
What did change between the two studies, says a post on the S&P Global Mobility website, “is how many car shoppers want the test drive to occur with the vehicle delivered to their home or office, instead of the dealership.”
The number of home-delivery test drives has doubled between pre- and post-COVID, according to the survey.
Buyers are also increasingly more comfortable with pre-ordering, says S&P. In the survey, 56% of US consumers would be willing to wait more than one month for delivery of an ordered vehicle and 30% would be willing to wait more than three months. Those looking to buy luxury-brand models are willing to wait even longer, says S&P.
“We have seen that COVID-19 has changed consumer behavior,” Treffen White, director of consulting for S&P Global Mobility, is quoted as saying. “The dealer network of the past is not necessarily the network the industry will need for the future. Having the right digital tools will be more important than the size or appearance of the showroom.”