Online Buying Cycle: Understanding It Can Change How You Sell Your Vehicle

March 21, 2011

If you’re selling a vehicle privately—especially for the first time—or if you’re a dealer with years of experience, what I’m about to tell you can make the difference between selling in a timely fashion or having your car, truck, or SUV languish for another week, taking up precious space and costing even more time and money.  

This insider information will also guide your pricing strategy, or when you lower the price for maximum benefit. Dealers are familiar with pricing strategies; private sellers, not so much. If you’re the latter, learn from the pros and start using a pricing strategy to make sure that you’re not leaving money on the table. See my previous article: Price Your Car Like a Pro: Develop a Pricing Strategy.

Online Buying Cycle

What’s the information that can change how you sell your vehicle? It is understanding the buying cycle consumers follow when shopping online for their next vehicle. The Internet is changing how we buy cars. Now, the vast majority of new and used car buyers begin their vehicle search online. Understanding these emerging trends in online buying patterns is necessary if you want to successfully sell your private vehicle, or market a car dealer’s entire used vehicle inventory.

When I was Internet Manager for a major car dealer, I was also responsible for marketing our pre-owned vehicles on the Internet. I developed a successful system that is now in book form (see below). But one of the major factors that I discovered after running hundreds of ads online each week was exactly when consumers are at their computers and calling or emailing as they look for cars. Having this information will help you decide when to:

  • post your listing
  • make price reductions
  • make other changes to your ad

Car dealers already know that Saturday is the busiest shopping day of the week. More shoppers are out viewing vehicles on Saturday than any other day. The online buying cycle that I discovered aligns with this weekly shopping cycle. Online buyers begin lining up vehicles to look at beginning late Wednesday afternoon and continue right through to Saturday morning.

Make Changes on Tuesday

Based on this buying cycle, any changes to your ad should be made on Tuesday to make sure only current information—including current pricing information—is online when buyers start lining up the vehicles they want to see in person. This isn’t to say that you won’t get calls or email other days of the week. But those calls and emails will dramatically increase late Wednesday and won’t drop off until Saturday noon.

Understanding this buying cycle also means that Tuesday is the best day to freshen your online ad by changing around the photos, changing the wording of your ad, or even including a new, personal story on why you’re selling the vehicle. If you’re using a pricing strategy where you set a high initial selling price and are slowly lowering that price each week—allowing the marketplace to determine the selling price—Tuesday is also the day to make pricing changes.

Knowing that you’ll receive the majority of your calls late Wednesday afternoon through to Saturday noon helps you plan your week so that you—or someone you trust— is available to answer calls and emails quickly. Part of the new rules of selling vehicles online is to answer inquiries within minutes of receiving them. It can literally make the difference between making a sale or not.

At the very least, have the most current information online during the peak times that prospective buyers may be clicking through your ads and postings: late Wednesday afternoon through to Saturday noon. Good luck.


L. James Johnson is the guy who wrote the book on how to sell your car online: HELP! I Gotta Sell My Car NOW! New Rules for Selling Your Vehicle Online! is available on Amazon via

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