The most difficult part of the process for buyers is finding the exact vehicle they want. - IMAGE: CDK Global

The most difficult part of the process for buyers is finding the exact vehicle they want.


Since July, CDK Global has been taking the pulse of the car buyer to see just how easy it is to buy a car in our constantly shifting retail environment. Each month, we kept asking “Was the process easy?” And the answers were consistent, with four out of five (82%) of the more than 2,000 shoppers agreeing.

It’s probably no surprise that the most difficult part of the process for buyers is finding the exact vehicle they want. And even though inventories have improved, this problem persisted into December. Only agreeing on a final price came close to ranking as the top headache, and that dropped significantly from November (24%) to December (16%).

When we shifted and asked if it was easy or not without ranking the top problem, negotiating the final price and trade-in value rose above finding the right car. Only 52% of buyers said negotiating trade-in value was easy; 59% said that landing on the final price was easy.

Inventory control and locating the right vehicle for customers should stay on dealers’ radar. The ease of purchase score dropped steadily as buyers had to visit more stores. Going to more than two dealers also correlated to respondents who said they could find the car they wanted. So even if you are that third store where the buyer finally found the right car, they were less likely to consider the process easy.

Another clear sign of ongoing inventory issues was the number of buyers who found the car they wanted in stock. This number fell to 43% in December from 49% in November. However, this was still higher than the all-time low of 37% in September. This issue has maintained habits that were not the norm before our supply chain-constrained retail environment. The number of people ordering from the factory has remained at 22%, staying virtually the same since August. Shoppers who selected a vehicle in transit increased month-over-month in December to 28%, which was the highest rate we’ve seen.

Time expectations also remained relatively consistent over the six months of our surveys. 46% of the total respondents surveyed saying the time it took was what they expected, and another 15% saying it took less time than they expected. In a separate survey of a similar number of shoppers, we found that 55% of car buyers are spending two hours or less at the dealer to complete the purchase, with a surprising 21% spending more than three hours. In that report, we saw a clear connection between lower Net Promoter Score -- which guages customer loyalty and satisfaction -- and customer satisfaction scores with longer waits at the dealer.

It’s been reassuring to see buyers continue to tell us that buying a car is an easy process. However, we’ve also discovered just how important inventory mix and the time spent at the dealership are in delivering a great customer experience.

Thomas is content marketing and automotive industry analyst at CDK Global.