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Top Consumer Buying Trends: Five Key Insights from Cox Automotive’s Car Buyer Journey Study 

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After a wild period of rapid change and shifting norms—both automotive retailers and buyers are beginning to catch their breath. 

Despite some old trends becoming new again, there are a few ways the buying journey has changed for good. As dealers have implemented new tools and technologies in recent years to make the car buying experience more convenient, consumers have taken notice and indicated that these new trends are here to stay.  

The 2023 Cox Automotive Car Buyer Journey Study surveyed nearly 3,000 respondents who purchased or leased a vehicle in 2023. This gives dealers a glimpse into the minds of modern car buyers and details the trends for the coming years of car sales.  

The study uncovered several interesting findings for automotive retailers. To deliver exceptional experiences, attract more buyers, and stay ahead of the competition, dealers should consider the following five key insights. 

1. The Buying Journey Has Been Streamlined 

With an increase in available inventory at dealerships, it’s probably not a big surprise that consumers are spending less time on all aspects of the purchase process. According to the Study, consumers now spend nearly 7 fewer hours researching and shopping online, compared to 2022. Interestingly, they also spend nearly one less hour talking with others, almost 3 fewer hours visiting dealerships, and almost 3 fewer hours with the actual dealership seller. 

This  is true for both new and used vehicle purchases and more closely resembles the amount of time spent by consumers in 2020 and 2021. This reduced buying time can probably also be attributed to dealers refining the digital to in-store purchase process, making the car buyer journey more streamlined than ever before. 

Take Action: Don’t Lose Your Leads to the Competition 

With more inventory available, consumers who get “left on read” will get snatched up by the competition, fast.    Your sales team needs to think fast on their feet to meet the needs of today’s buyers, which means you’d better have the right tools, training and technology to keep interested buyers at their fingertips.    

Keep building on the gains and momentum you’ve already made to make the car buying journey more streamlined and efficient. No one wants to spend a lot of time in dealerships, and your online to in-store purchase process will be key in giving customers the experience they want. 

2. More People Prefer a Mix of Online and In-Person Buying 

Auto sales have changed for the better as consumers prefer to buy cars online. Dealers have adapted, and most buyers now prefer a mix of online and offline options.   

When compared with their most recent purchase, more people (71%) are planning to buy their next car through a mix of online and offline methods. That’s changed from only 45% of buyers who preferred a mix of both options for their most recent purchase. Interestingly, only 8% of consumers want to purchase their next vehicle all in-person. That’s down considerably from 50% of study respondents for their last vehicle purchase.  

Take Action: Be Proactive  

Any step your team can take to save time will seal the deal for those car buyers who are looking to simplify the process. Since today’s consumers are accustomed to online purchase options, proactive technology can give you insights into buyers who are simply browsing—and buyers who are ready to come in and sign the paperwork.  

Be ready to talk without wasting their time.  With features such as Automated Offers from Automated Marketing Platform, dealers can proactively send an offer to a shopper based on their online shopping activity.   

3. Consumers Are Keeping Their Cars Longer 

An overwhelming majority (91%) of consumers plan to keep their cars as their primary source of transportation for the next five-plus years.    

Your customers will still need to hear from you to keep them coming in for service opportunities. This motivation to keep cars as a primary means of transportation also gives you the perfect opportunity to keep building relationships with your customers until they’re ready to buy.  

Take Action: Use Intelligent Marketing to Personalize Servicer Campaigns   

Use an intelligent marketing tool to target vehicle owners to encourage them to come in for service. You can also deliver personalized messages and offers and convert service customers into new car buying leads. This will keep your customers engaged with personalized, helpful content, reminders, and offers that will help you stay top of mind when your customers are ready to service their existing vehicle or purchase a new one.  

4. More Cars, More Competition    

Inventory is back. While that’s good for the overall buying experience, it also means that consumers can pick and choose from a larger selection of vehicles and a wider range of dealerships. In other words, more competition for you.  

As buyers search for the best deal, more are considering both used and new options (78%) and  purchasing and leasing (31%).  

Take Action: Work Smarter, Not Harder with Automotive Intelligence and a Robust CRM 

Stay Competitive with technology that gives you all the insight, tools and data needed to run your dealership more efficiently &and effectively. VinSolutions CRM and Automotive Intelligence enables dealers to accelerate the path to purchase by leveraging Cox Automotive data insights to meet customers where they’re at in their car-buying journey.  

5. Online Is the New In-Person Communication  

Shoppers are more comfortable submitting leads online. In fact, as much as 60% of shoppers submitted a lead online before ever visiting a dealership in-person. Among these, 9% submitted a basic lead and 51% submitted an enhanced lead, meaning they also included trade, credit, financing or payment information.   

Interestingly, this increased comfort level with communicating with dealerships online directly correlates with overall customer satisfaction. As much as 77% of those who submitted an enhanced lead online reported satisfaction with the dealership experience, compared with 65% of those who submitted a basic lead. And, 48% of those who submitted an enhanced lead online reported their experience was better than their last purchase, compared with just 27% who submitted a basic online lead.  

Take Action: Provide Assistance 24/7 with Virtual Assistance 

No matter where your leads come from or how much information they give, deliver the same personalized experience you’d give customers at your dealership. With a growing number of leads submitted after hours, many businesses utilize advanced digital communication offerings to bridge the gap. With VinSolutions Virtual Assistancet Vinessa, you can engage with interested buyers after hours, schedule appointments and answer questions without making people wait until you’re back on the clock. 

The car buying journey has changed in several significant ways, and in other ways it’s returning to the old normal. No matter the state of the industry, understanding today’s consumers is key to targeting the right buyers, staying competitive, and delivering the next-level experiences they expect.  

To learn how you can make every contact an opportunity, get started with a personalized VinSolutions CRM demo today. Get Started