Consumer shopping behavior has shifted in response to recent economic changes. Many consumers believe that the current economic issues are long-term and will have permanent effects on how they spend money.1 Since consumers have become more discerning about their purchases, they are also spending more time researching in the online space, actively choosing to engage with the medium to scrutinize potential purchases. In fact, car shoppers spend an average of 55 minutes a month on AutoTrader.com during the six months prior to buying a car.2
Look at today’s new automotive consumer profile and you can determine how to use the Internet to impact consumers’ decision-making process.
Car Shoppers’ New Attitude
Today’s car shoppers are different. A 2009 study of the economic impact on car shopping behavior revealed that:
• Consumers are less impulsive about purchases due to the perceived risk.3
• They are concerned about making a wrong decision and being “stuck” with the wrong vehicle or high monthly payments.3
• They are giving more consideration to major purchases, like vehicles.3
This information may not come as a surprise, but what’s important is how this feedback affects the way you market your vehicles in an environment where “savvy” has become the new status symbol.
An Influencing Medium
The goal of any advertising is to provide stimulus that creates a response from shoppers. That means your advertising should motivate consumers to take that next step in the car shopping process. You want shoppers going online to your virtual showroom or, even better, walking onto your lot. According to the Northwood Dealer Walk-In Study4, “advertising” was cited as one of the top four reasons that caused shoppers to walk into the dealership. Furthermore, more than half of walk-in traffic can be attributed specifically to Internet advertising.
How does this information relate to today’s conscientious consumer? Because the information that car shoppers find online influences not only what car they buy, but who they buy it from. As a result, the Internet is the uniquely qualified medium to forward your value proposition to these more thoughtful shoppers. But in order to influence these shoppers, you must have the value conversation upfront in your advertising.
Ad Tips to Build Value
Influencing today’s consumer starts by addressing the inherent questions they have about buying a car. Remember the economic impact study from earlier?3 Part of what we can learn from this study is what today’s car shoppers want from dealers in the online space. According to the study, car shoppers want:
1. “Real” Information to Ensure a Good Purchase. While it might seem rather abstract, the point here is that what you represent online should be an accurate portrayal of the vehicle. The price should be consistent across all forms of advertising – all the way down to the window sticker. The condition of the car should be represented accurately. The bottom line is, inconsistencies erode trust. A customer wants to know what they’re getting up front, so if they show up to your dealership and the vehicle is not available, the price is different or it’s not in the same condition as it appears online, not only do you risk losing sales, but you also risk damaging your reputation.
2. To See Inventory on Local Dealership Lots. Consumers also want to see these cars posted online with their price and with several photos of the actual car. When it comes to photos, the more you have, the better.
3. To Compare Incentives Online. Right now consumers are looking for the absolute best deal and doing their homework online to find it. That’s not to say that they will forsake value for a low price. But compared to one year ago, consumers are making greater use of the tools at their disposal to be smarter shoppers. In fact, 57 percent are looking around for more sales, 47 percent are using more coupons and 45 percent are doing more comparison shopping, while 32 percent of consumers are buying less on credit and 60 percent are making fewer spontaneous purchases.1 Keep this information in mind when it comes to creating special offers and incentives for your vehicles.
4. The Perfect Vehicle for Their Personality and Lifestyle. In your online merchandising, there is an opportunity to tell the car’s value story with custom comments. Don’t just list a car’s features. Make the vehicle stand out by giving specific details that allow shoppers to see, touch, feel and experience it. For example, “Room for eight. Back seat folds down for extra storage – makes a great family car!”
What Else Can You Do?
• Include a Vehicle History Report: Car shoppers want to know a vehicle is reliable, and right now one of the biggest concerns for consumers is making a wrong decision. A vehicle history report can help allay their fears.
• Merchandise Your Dealership on Third-Party Sites: A large number of consumers visit independent third-party sites, so you need to get your value message where shoppers are looking first. In fact, 89 percent of auto shoppers visit independents.5 Make sure to demonstrate your customer focus in your dealership description. For example, “Built on the principles of genuine caring and personal service.”
1 *Doner, “Art of the Possible,” 2008-2009
2 J.D. Power and Associates and Compete Inc., 2009 Web Site Performance Tools Report—Wave 1
3 Greenfield Consulting Qualitative Research, Feb 2009 & Moskowitz Jacobs Qualitative Research, March 2009
4 Dealer Walk-In Study, Northwood University & AutoTrader.com, November 2008
5 2008 J.D. Power New & Used Vehicle Market Reports
Vol. 7, Issue 7