Survey: 76% Of Shoppers Would Consider Bypassing Dealerships & Buy Cars Online

May 7, 2015

If you're like many folks, you have an aversion to conventional car dealerships. (Honestly, no one likes haggling.) Also, if you're like many folks, you buy a lot of things online.

So, you might not be surprised to hear about a new survey, which shows that 76 percent of consumers around the globe would consider buying vehicles online rather than in a showroom.

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The survey was conducted by Accenture, and it asked 10,000 people in Brazil, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, and the U.S. about their use of digital technology before, during, and after buying a car. (While most of those countries accounted for 10 percent of respondents, Chinese residents accounted for 30 percent. More on that in a sec.)

Here are some of the survey's key findings:

  • Most consumers do research online when looking for a new car, and most of them do so before approaching a dealership. For example, 36 percent of respondents said that they used websites to narrow their options before visiting showrooms, while another 13 percent relied on recommendations through social media. Only seven percent of consumers didn't consult the web at all in their planning.
  • Despite a general dislike of auto dealerships (and dealers), consumers were mostly satisfied with their recent purchase experience. In 2012, 52 percent of respondents gave the process top marks (i.e. a score of eight, nine, or ten on a scale of one to ten). This year, that number ticked up to 60 percent.
  • Maintenance and customer service are big concerns for shoppers: 68 percent would like to see free maintenance options provided with new car purchase, 65 percent would like discounts on insurance, 61 percent want discounts on fuel, 41 percent would like service reminders sent to their mobile phones, and 40 percent would like their vehicles picked up at their homes (at no charge) for service.
  • A full 87 percent of respondents predicted that the car-buying process would be simplified by moving online in the near future. Of that number, 50 percent believed that auto purchases will take place entirely or almost entirely online. Just 13 percent of respondents said that "Car purchasing is not an industry that can be disrupted by digital means".
  • On the one hand, consumers today seem far more comfortable with online car purchases than they were just three years ago. In 2012, 76 percent of respondents said that they'd miss the test drive if buying online. Today, only 56 percent of respondents said the same. In every category of the conventional purchase experience, those numbers were down, suggesting that the showroom is something that folks are willing to let go.
  • On the other hand, consumers seem a bit more wary of carrying out the entire process on the web. Of those surveyed, 76 percent said that they'd consider buying a car online, with 33 percent saying that they would definitely do so. That number is down considerably from 2012, when 93 percent said that they'd consider buying entirely online. The shift appears to be among the fence-straddlers: in 2012, 59 percent said that they would possibly consider making an auto purchase online, but this year, that number fell sharply to 42 percent.

So, what does all this tell us? 

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It's difficult to draw firm conclusions because respondents have come from very different cultures and economies. Chinese consumers, for example, are relatively new to the web (which is still heavily censored there), and to some of the principles of capitalism. At the moment, they're very eager to carry out auto sales online, with just four percent of respondents saying that they wouldn't consider it at all. Since Chinese consumers make up 30 percent of Accenture's respondents, they've skewed the overall results.

U.S. consumers, on the other hand, have a lot of experience with the web and free-market policies. We may be more mature and/or jaded on those fronts, which could be why far more U.S. residents -- 25 percent to be exact -- would never buy a car entirely online. In other words, some of us have gotten burned, and we may see the potential pitfalls of shelling out huge sums of dough on a vehicle, sight unseen.

That said, it's clear from the study that consumers are relying on the web in greater numbers. Even in the relatively skeptical U.S., only four percent of respondents said that they didn't use the web at all when buying their last ride.

Also, consumers expect more from dealerships in the way of perks and services. That's not surprising: with cars of all stripes made increasingly well these days, the differentiating factor between auto brands and dealerships is customer service.

If you have time to check out the study, you can skim through a multi-page infographic of the findings here. (Note that you can look at overall results or narrow them by country.) You can also download PDFs of the executive summary or full report.

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